Updates come in the mail every few months on letterhead from the Georgia attorney general’s office. But, they rarely say anything new the family of a slain army sergeant cares to hear about death row inmate Reinaldo Rivera.
The last update explained holdups with the death penalty related to concerns that a drug used in executions might cause the inmate pain.
“His pain that he suffers is far less than the pain caused Marni and Chrisilee,” said Wendy Knopp, older sister of Rivera’s first victim, 21-year-old Army Sgt. Marni Glista.
Sgt. Glista’s family waits on the death sentence to be carried out as the lengthy judicial process continues.
“We’re going on 11 years since Marni’s death,” said Knopp, of Puyallup, Wash. “It would be nice to have that final closure, but it’s not up to us either.”
A Richmond County Superior Court jury sentenced Rivera to death in January 2004 for Glista’s murder. Glista was found unconscious and barely breathing inside her home on Sept. 5, 2000, after being attacked the day before. She died Sept. 9 at Doctors Hospital. Glista was strangled, according to the indictment.
Rivera confessed that he raped and killed three other women. A fourth, Chrisilee Barton, survived a brutal stabbing and gave investigators clues that led to his capture.
Especially near the anniversary of Glista’s death and her July birthday, the family wonders what her life would be like today if not for Rivera.
“She was married. Would she have kids; what would her career path look like?” Knopp said.
The death sentence appeal of the serial rapist and killer moved to the Georgia Supreme Court, where a decision to review his request for habeas corpus should be issued by the end of March.
Most recently, Rivera’s lawyer for the habeas petition was granted a 10-day extension by the courts on Sept. 6 to file a brief regarding the inmate’s mental competency. His lawyer, Brian Kammer from the Georgia Resource Center in Atlanta, stated that he needed more time to write a well-researched brief given the court’s demands and his workload for other death penalty cases, Hansen said.
Kammer denied a request for interview.
The state has six months to rule on the case after the court term to which it has been assigned begins this month, according to Jane Hansen, public information officer for the Georgia Supreme Court. The case will be argued through written briefs after the court denied a request to hear oral arguments in June, she said.
As Glista’s family waits on this chapter in their lives to close, they cling to their faith in God and the courts.
“For me and my family, we have a tremendous amount of faith in Christ. He is the final judge and jury,” Knopp said. “I hope the sentence is carried out. I do believe in the justice system.”
At this point in the appeals process, Rivera, who sits on death row in Jackson, Ga., is asking the Georgia Supreme Court to challenge the most recent ruling against him.
On March 31, Superior Court Judge William Fears ordered a final ruling denying Rivera’s petition for habeas.
Rivera insisted from his first confessions that he wanted a death sentence.
According to the judge’s final order, Rivera “consistently, both at trial and during these habeas proceedings, indicated that he has no desire to appeal his convictions and sentences.”
Peter Johnson, an Augusta criminal defense attorney who represented Rivera during his original trial, said Rivera’s appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, if authorized, must continue with the original grounds of the habeas trial.
“If they deny it, then he is dead in the water,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, the only other option for Rivera would be taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court where he would need to raise a constitutional question with the trial. Johnson said he did not know enough about Rivera’s habeas petition to determine if that’s possible.
Richard Dieter, executive director for the Death Penalty Information Center, said the U.S. Supreme Court does not accept many death penalty appeal cases.
If Rivera chooses to take his appeal to federal courts, the process could take even more time, Dieter said.