Originally created 01/16/04

Witnesses detail suspicions

When Tammy Rivera's sister tried to tell her that her husband might be the man wanted by police in a brutal rape, she refused to consider it, she testified Thursday at her ex-husband's trial.

"I told her I didn't believe it, I didn't believe he was capable of doing something like that. I was very angry," Ms. Rivera testified.

"I was the last one to find out," Ms. Rivera said of Reinaldo Rivera and the accusations that he had raped and killed four young women in the Augusta area and tried to kill a fifth.

Mr. Rivera, 40, has pleaded innocent in Richmond County Superior Court to 14 charges, including murder in the September 2000 death of Army Sgt. Marni Glista. His defense team of Peter Johnson and Jacque Hawk, however, told the jury at the beginning of the trial that they will ask for a verdict of guilty but mentally ill.

If Mr. Rivera is convicted of murder in the strangulation death of the 21-year-old soldier, the prosecution will seek a death sentence for the former Bridgestone tire inspector.

One of his Bridgestone co-workers and a former sister-in-law immediately suspected that he might be the man Richmond County Sheriff's officers were looking for in an Oct. 10, 2000, rape and attempted murder, they testified Thursday. Like Mr. Rivera, investigators described the suspect as possibly being Hispanic and driving a teal green Honda Civic with fancy wheels and tinted windows.

Brad Carter heard about the police alert on television news Oct. 11, 2000. He joked to his wife at first, "Hey, that sounds like Rey," Mr. Carter testified.

"I didn't want it to be him," Mr. Carter said, but he felt compelled to call police.

Renee Hutto also called the sheriff's department. Once before she had called police about her brother-law-in, she testified. She called Crime Stoppers after 17-year-old Tiffaney Wilson disappeared Dec. 4, 1999, "because Rey was missing all that day," she testified.

The date stood out in the family's memory because Mrs. Hutto's husband's birthday party was that night and her sister and Mr. Rivera were more than an hour late, she testified.

"He was very tense, very withdrawn," she said, describing Mr. Rivera's demeanor at the party. Shortly after a television news report concerning a baby found abandoned at the Georgia Welcome Center on Interstate 20, Mr. Rivera left the celebration, Mrs. Hutto testified.

After his arrest, Mr. Rivera told investigators that he sexually assaulted and killed Mrs. Wilson in Aiken County earlier that day and left her infant daughter at the Welcome Center.

Mr. Rivera would disappear for hours at a time, Mrs. Hutto testified. By chance one day, she saw him talking to a young woman in a parking lot. She starting watching for him when he disappeared and saw him talking to a number of young women in parking lots, Mrs. Hutto said.

In June 1999, Mrs. Hutto and Mr. Rivera got into an argument when he left a cookout to go buy cheese and was gone for two hours. Mrs. Hutto told her sister that she had seen Mr. Rivera talking to young women several times, she testified.

"He was furious with me for doing that," Mrs. Hutto testified.

The next month, on the morning of July 17, 1999, Melissa Dingess disappeared from Graniteville. Mr. Rivera told investigators after his arrest that he had raped and strangled the 17-year-old newlywed. Her remains were found where Mr. Rivera said he left her body off Interstate 20 in Aiken County.

Hunters found Mrs. Wilson's body off Bettis Academy Road three weeks after she disappeared.

Ms. Rivera testified Thursday that once, while out looking at possible sites to build a house, her then-husband drove to an area off Bettis Academy Road and pointed out a particular lot. That was where, he thought, police had found a body, Ms. Rivera testified.

Mr. Rivera's statements to investigators also led to the discovery of the remains of another teenager, 17-year-old Tabitha Bosdell. He told detectives he had raped and strangled her in Augusta and dumped her body off Interstate 20 in Columbia County.

Today the jury will hear the tape recordings officers made during their conversations with Mr. Rivera after his arrest.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.


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