Originally created 02/28/01

Rivera speaks through recordings



"You better get comfortable; it's going to take awhile," Sgt. Wayne Bunton quoted Reinaldo J. Rivera as saying last fall as Georgia and South Carolina detectives filed into his hospital room to hear tales of rape and murder.

The officers might have been a little vague when Mr. Rivera questioned them about the death penalty in both states, thinking he feared it, Sgt. Bunton, of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office, testified Tuesday. But quickly, with a tape recording rolling, he and the other officers understood Mr. Rivera wanted a death sentence, Sgt. Bunton testified.

On Tuesday, in Columbia County Superior Court, where Mr. Rivera faces a death-penalty trial in one of four homicides, the investigators began playing the tapes they recorded as Mr. Rivera described the deaths of two women in South Carolina and two women in Georgia, in addition to the nearly fatal attack on a fifth woman Oct. 10.

First was Melissa Dingess, a petite 17-year-old last seen talking on a pay phone near her Graniteville home.

"He said, `That's the first time I killed,"' FBI Special Agent John Gerrity Jr. testified Mr. Rivera said when shown a picture of Mrs. Dingess on Oct. 13.

Mr. Rivera had been on his way to the grocery store when he spotted her talking on a pay phone about 10 a.m. July 17, 1999. He stopped and struck up a conversation, which Mr. Rivera described as his usual banter to lure women into a false sense of security, Agent Gerrity testified. Mrs. Dingess agreed to let Mr. Rivera take photographs of her, and she got into his car. He drove to a subdivision being developed in Aiken County, the agent quoted Mr. Rivera as saying.

"He said he offered her money for sex but she said no," Agent Gerrity testified, so Mr. Rivera raped and strangled her. "He did say she died very quickly."

Tiffaney S. Wilson, 17, was next, Mr. Rivera told Aiken County sheriff's Lt. Robert Anderson in a taped interview Oct. 26. The recording was played in court Tuesday, Mr. Rivera's voice calm and matter-of-fact as he described a chance meeting with the young wife and mother and how he sodomized and killed her as her 2-month-old baby sat nearby in her car seat.

"I was on the way home ... and I told myself while I was driving by Exit 5, I decided to pull into that exit to see if there was anyone to talk to," Mr. Rivera explained. Near the Interstate 20 exit ramp is a plaza with a Winn-Dixie grocery store where Mrs. Wilson had taken her baby, Kaitlyn, to be photographed with Santa on Dec. 4, 1999. Mr. Rivera pulled his car next to Mrs. Wilson's car and struck up a conversation that he said lasted a half-hour to an hour.

"At which point I was very turned on and decided to ask her if she would pose for me, (but) no nude photographs," Mr. Rivera said. Mrs. Wilson agreed and got into his van - that's when he realized she had a baby with her.

The spiel didn't always work with women, Mr. Rivera told the officer, but it seemed to work best with young women, age 17 to 21, and those driving less-expensive cars. He estimated he had raped 150 to 200 women, blaming sex addiction that escalated to homicide.

"Anyone with any common sense should have had a red flag," Mr. Rivera said of his constant approach to women. Asked by Lt. Anderson whether Mrs. Wilson lacked common sense, Mr. Rivera said, "As regard to common sense, I would tell you (Mrs. Wilson) had the same common sense as most women her age. Unfortunately, she was dealing with me."

YOUNG WOMEN, Mr. Rivera told the investigator, were most vulnerable for the fact they see themselves as invulnerable.

"I used that against her," he said.

Mr. Rivera drove to the subdivision in Aiken County where Mrs. Dingess had died. He knew the still-under-construction subdivision well because he had thought about building a home there, he told the officer.

Mr. Rivera said Mrs. Wilson willingly stripped down to her underclothes and struck several poses at his direction but refused his sexual proposition: "And she says no. (That's) when I decide to attack her.

"All I'm thinking about is the risk of her exposing me. That's why I decided to strangle her.

"With Tiffaney, it was very quick. I just wanted to get it over with," Mr. Rivera told the officer.

While Mr. Rivera maintained that the actual killing was a spur-of-the-moment decision, he also told the detective that he had brought several things along with him that day - the tape he used to gag her so he wouldn't have to hear pleas or crying, the tie-down rope he used to strangle her, the knife he plunged into her throat hard enough to break the blade, and the rope he used to bind her hands behind her back.

"She was submissive from the beginning to the end," Mr. Rivera told the officer.

HE DRAGGED MRS. Wilson's body into the woods and left, Mr. Rivera explained.

"I was in a panic mode," he said. He drove away and returned to the same shopping plaza area, dumping Mrs. Wilson's clothing in a large trash bin, he said. He left the baby at the welcome center on I-20 just across the state line in Georgia so the baby would be found immediately, Mr. Rivera said.

Although he had already killed Mrs. Dingess, Mrs. Wilson's slaying got to him, Mr. Rivera told the officer. He said that he attempted suicide by throwing himself in front of a truck the next day, that he saw a doctor to get some medicine to reduce his sex drive, and that he had a long emotional talk with a minister that day.

"I definitely felt worse about Tiffaney ... I think with Tiffaney's - I got to believe it was a combination of things - it was the baby, I left the child without a mother, and the other part was there was so much on the news," Mr. Rivera said.

Mrs. Wilson's body was discovered Dec. 28, 1999.

About six months later, on June 22, Tabatha L. Bosdell, 18, disappeared.

On Sept. 4, Fort Gordon Sgt. Marni Glista, 21, was attacked in her Augusta home. She died four days later.

And on Oct. 10, Chrisilee Barton, an 18-year-old Augusta woman, was attacked in her home and left for dead.

MISS BARTON LIVED and identified Mr. Rivera on Oct. 12 as the man who raped, sodomized, strangled and stabbed her. Mr. Rivera was at Medical College of Georgia Hospital at the time, recovering from cut wrists, a suicide attempt interrupted by his arrest at a Clearwater hotel the day before, Sgt. Bunton testified Tuesday.

"He actually inquired about (Miss Barton), if she had died," Sgt. Bunton said of Mr. Rivera. He thought the officers were lying when they told him she was still alive. He told them he had five victims: Melissa, Tiffaney, Marni and Chrisilee and one more whose name he couldn't remember, Sgt. Bunton testified.

The next day Mr. Rivera, a 37-year-old tire inspector, told the investigators about the women and how to find the remains of two others, Mrs. Dingess and Ms. Bosdell.

On Tuesday, Judge Albert M. Pickett ruled the taped statement Mr. Rivera gave to Lt. Anderson about Mrs. Wilson's slaying may be used by the prosecution at Mr. Rivera's death-penalty trials in Columbia and Richmond counties.

At the next pretrial hearing, on March 20, the remaining tapes of Mr. Rivera's statements are expected to be played.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226.