Originally created 01/17/04

Rivera's defense attorneys to present witnesses Monday



Reinaldo Rivera wouldn't look at the men testifying Friday about their last glimpses of wives who, according to Mr. Rivera, were helpless as he raped and strangled each to death.

And Mr. Rivera, 40, looked at no one in the Richmond County Superior Court courtroom as the tape-recordings of his confessions played. Everyone listened as he described killing Melissa Dingess and Tiffaney Wilson in 1999 in Aiken County, and killing Tabitha Bosdell and Marni Glista and trying to kill a fifth young woman the next year in Augusta.

"So basically, if I had control over this, contrary to everything you have seen in the newspapers and everything I've done, I'm as moral as the next person," Mr. Rivera told former Aiken County sheriff's Lt. Robert Anderson.

"I know it's a contradiction in terms, but I'm as moral as the next person, if not more, and I've known the hard things that I have done, and I've cried and prayed to God every night from the first time it happened years ago," he told Mr. Anderson on Oct. 26, 2000.

Mr. Rivera has pleaded innocent to 14 charges in Richmond County Superior Court, including murder in the death of Army Sgt. Glista, 21. But his defense attorneys, Peter Johnson and Jacque Hawk, have conceded Mr. Rivera's guilt to the jury. If he is convicted, the jury will be asked to impose either life in prison with or without the possibility of parole, or death.

While the Richmond County jury isn't to determine Mr. Rivera's fate in the killings of Mrs. Dingess, Mrs. Wilson or Ms. Bosdell, they heard evidence after those fatal sexual assaults as "similar transactions" - evidence prosecutors contend prove Mr. Rivera's bent of mind or course of conduct.

As gut-wrenching as Mr. Rivera's details about the assaults and slayings were in the statements to investigators, he neglected and downplayed the extent of violence inflicted on the young women.

Mr. Rivera told the Aiken County detective he didn't want to discuss how he subdued 17-year-old Mrs. Wilson, whose body was found in woods off Bettis Academy Road three weeks after she disappeared. Mr. Rivera said he sodomized and strangled the bound and gagged woman and stabbed her once in the neck as her infant daughter lay strapped in her car seat nearby.

The medical examiner who performed her autopsy testified Friday that Mrs. Wilson had holes, possibly knife wounds, on both sides of her neck and upper chest. Hemorrhaging under her scalp indicated she had suffered a blow to the head. But none of the injuries would have been fatal, and death was probably caused by strangulation, Dr. Joel Sexton testified.

All investigators could find of Mrs. Dingess, 17, were her bones, scattered in a wooded area off Interstate 20 in South Carolina where Mr. Rivera told detectives he had dumped her body. No clothing was found, Dr. Sexton testified.

Bones were all investigators found when they searched an area in Columbia County where Mr. Rivera said he had dumped 17-year-old Tabitha Bosdell after raping and strangling her to death beside the Augusta Canal.

"... She put up a real, real good fight so, um, actually I was trying not to do it this time, and she fought like crazy, so I ended up having to (strangle her.) I used my arm first," Mr. Rivera told detectives.

It was the last tape-recording the jury heard before prosecutors rested their case Friday night.

Just before they finished, Mr. Johnson asked for a mistrial, arguing that the jury has heard so much about the Aiken County slayings of Mrs. Dingess and Mrs. Wilson that Mr. Rivera's character has been improperly brought into the courtroom.

Behind Mr. Johnson, Mr. Rivera stood and started to protest.

"Rey: Sit down," Mr. Johnson barked. But Mr. Rivera would not. "I'm not requesting any kind of mistrial."

Judge Albert M. Pickett, who had previously ruled at pretrial hearings that the evidence of the Aiken County slayings was admissible, denied Mr. Johnson's motion.

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