Convicted serial killer and death row inmate Reinaldo Rivera has begun his last round of appeals.
On Tuesday, Rivera filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court in Augusta. The action orders that he be taken before a court and places the burden of proof on those detaining him to justify the detention.
Rivera has exhausted the appellate process in Georgia’s courts since a Richmond County Superior Court jury convicted him of murder and other charges and voted in favor of death as punishment for the brutal slaying of 21-year-old Army Sgt. Marni Glista.
Rivera stood trial only for Glista’s Sept. 9, 2000, killing, but he confessed to and was charged in the slayings of three other young women.
Rivera’s fifth intended homicide victim, an 18-year-old Augusta woman, survived being raped, sodomized, strangled and stabbed in the neck three times. Her clues and description led Richmond County sheriff’s investigators to Rivera.
They found him Oct. 12, 2000, in a Clearwater hotel. He had attempted suicide by downing a bottle of Tylenol and slashing his wrists and was taken to a hospital, where he later confessed.
That confession, according to Rivera’s habeas petition, was illegally obtained and should not have been allowed as evidence.
Nearly four years after Rivera was convicted and sentenced to death, a tape-recorded interview of him was found in an apartment where homicide investigator Richard Roundtree – now Richmond County’s sheriff – had lived. It hadn’t been entered as evidence and wasn’t shared with the defense attorneys.
“(Defense attorney Peter Johnson) brought me a copy of the tape,” said Jacque Hawk, who was Johnson’s co-counsel for Rivera. “After listening to it, I called him and told him to come get this thing out of here. I thought we would be trying it (the case) again.”
Hawk said it was obvious on the tape that Rivera was incoherent.
Other tape recordings of Rivera’s statements included the Miranda warning.
The petition filed this week attacks the defense work on the case from every angle, including Rivera’s attempts to fire Johnson and Hawk in the middle of his trial and voicing repeated demands for a death sentence.
“We were fighting him, the judge and the DA,” Hawk said. “We were surrounded by the enemy and we even had one in our camp.”
To investigators and the jury, Rivera said he lured Melissa Dingess, Tiffaney Wilson, Tabitha Bosdell and Glista into believing the same lie he gave his last intended victim – a promise of modeling. He said he raped them because he was incapable of overcoming a sex addiction.
Rivera became enraged during his trial when then-District Attorney Daniel Craig said in closing arguments that Rivera wasn’t a kindly sex addict but a sadistic rapist who stalked and savagely attacked vulnerable victims.
Rivera had crossed the path of some of his victims when they needed help. Dingess, 17, was at a pay phone to call her mother for a ride the day she disappeared: July 17, 1999. When Wilson’s husband found her car the day after she disappeared from a North Augusta grocery store parking lot on Dec. 4, 1999, it wouldn’t start. Bosdell, 17, was walking to work and would have had to cross one of the most dangerous intersections in Augusta on June 29, 2000, Craig said.
Glista didn’t invite Rivera to her home on Labor Day 2000; Rivera followed her. When she rushed inside to use the restroom before unloading groceries from her car, Rivera slipped into her Oakridge Drive house, Craig said.
Rivera’s federal petition also accuses the prosecution of introducing evidence that led the jury to false impressions.
Attorneys for the Georgia attorney general’s office filed a motion seeking the dismissal of Rivera’s federal petition, arguing Rivera missed the one-year deadline to file after his state appellate process was finished.