Originally created 01/25/04

Rivera case leaves 2 families shocked

Gloria Perius still wakes up in the night crying, she told jurors and courtroom spectators who shed tears with her Saturday as she described the loss of a daughter brutalized and left for dead by Reinaldo Rivera.

"I gave birth to Marni, and I sat by her side when she drew her last breath," Mrs. Perius said of Army Sgt. Marni Glista. Time will never erase the pain her family endured as they maintained a vigil by the 21-year-old's hospital bed before doctors disconnected the life support and Sgt. Glista died Sept. 9, 2000, she said.

"Marni was a good child. God gifted Marni with a personality that attracted people like a magnet.

"We lost our baby girl. The military lost a good soldier. Society has been robbed of a kind and thoughtful person," Mrs. Perius told the court.

Prosecutors called three witnesses to testify in the penalty phase of Mr. Rivera's death penalty trial, and the defense called seven Saturday, the day after jurors convicted Mr. Rivera of murder and 13 other charges. On Monday, they will return to deliberate Mr. Rivera's punishment for murdering Sgt. Glista.

On Saturday, Mrs. Perius could give only scripted answers to the limited questions allowed of family and friends who wish to give victim-impact statements in death penalty trials.

In contrast, the man convicted of murdering Sgt. Glista took the stand again in Richmond County Superior Court to give a rambling speech that ended with a request for a death sentence to ensure he is never free to kill again.

And he would kill again, Mr. Rivera told the jury, because he can't stop himself. He can't even stop himself from fantasizing about rape, he testified.

"I still fantasize about hurting the same girls that I killed," he testified and immediately left the witness stand.

He glared at District Attorney Danny Craig and Assistant District Attorney Ashley Wright as he passed the prosecutors' table.

"Tell me now I'm still a manipulator," he snarled at them.

The jury didn't know that after hearing from Sgt. Glista's mother, Mr. Rivera insisted on being the next witness to answer one question: has he been manipulating the trial as Mr. Craig suggested to jurors.

Defense attorneys Peter Johnson and Jacque Hawk tried to talk Mr. Rivera out of taking the stand and asking the jury to impose a death sentence - as opposed to the other options of life in prison with or without parole - but a defendant in a criminal trial is entitled to control his own defense, the judge has ruled.

"I took the lives of so many people," Mr. Rivera told the jury. "By God, the right decision for you to make is to give me the death penalty."

To sentence Mr. Rivera to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole, jurors must find that prosecutors have proved beyond a reasonable doubt at least one of three aggravating circumstances: that Mr. Rivera caused Sgt. Glista's death in conjunction with her rape; that Mr. Rivera murdered Sgt. Glista while committing an aggravated battery; or that Sgt. Glista's slaying was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman.

Jurors can consider any factor - or even no specific fact - as mitigating reason to impose a life sentence, even if they also find one or more of the aggravating circumstances to be true.

While Mr. Rivera told jurors he preferred death, his defense attorneys presented witnesses to persuade jurors there is reason for Mr. Rivera to live the rest of his life in a prison cell.

"When I heard what he did it was like a bomb," Mr. Rivera's sister, Gloria Rivera, testified.

It was impossible to believe the child she grew up with and the man she became close to in adulthood - the man who read bedtime stories for and cooed endearments to his children - was capable of such acts. It has to be mental illness, she testified.

"There's no way he's evil; he has to be sick," Ms. Rivera testified.

She told the jury about Mr. Rivera's son and daughter, children who miss him so much she cried on the witness stand as she thought of it.

When the jurors go back to the deliberation room Monday to decide Mr. Rivera's fate, they will see photographs of Mr. Rivera and his children, the letters he has written to them and some of the letters they have written to him. They will also have two poems Mr. Rivera wrote and copies of commendations he received while serving in the Navy.

Jurors will also have evidence presented during the first phase of the trial about Mr. Rivera's fatal attack of Sgt. Glista on Sept. 4, 2000; and the slayings of Tabitha Bosdell, 17, on June 29, 2000; Tiffaney S. Wilson, 17, on Dec. 4, 1999; and Melissa Dingess, 17, on July 17, 1999.

On Friday, in addition to finding Mr. Rivera guilty of murder and sexual assault in Sgt. Glista's death, the jury convicted Mr. Rivera in the sexual assault of Ms. Bosdell that took place in Richmond County before her death, and the sexual assault of Chrisilee Barton that nearly proved fatal Oct. 10, 2000.

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


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