To a packed audience in the Putnam County Courthouse, Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Craig and defense attorney Jacque Hawk squared off to make their case for and against a death sentence handed down two years ago for the rape and murder of Army Sgt. Marni Glista.
Mr. Hawk cited 10 points of contention during arguments - including exclusion of crucial testimony by a medical witness, introduction of unnecessary and inflammatory evidence from other murders, and interventions by Mr. Rivera himself when he was allowed to act as cocounsel after being found guilty.
In response, Mr. Craig argued the heinous nature of Mr. Rivera's crimes as reason for the sentence, calling proposed medical testimony "fiction" and referring to Mr. Rivera as just a difficult client instead of mentally disabled.
"You've got to understand, we didn't have a defense in this case in the guilt and innocence phases," Mr. Hawk said. "Our basic goal was to get him some sort of a life sentence."
Mr. Hawk said Mr. Rivera admitted to the Glista murder and others, forcing the defense team to argue Mr. Rivera had a genetically inherited mental condition, was diagnosed as a psychopath and had a dysfunctional childhood, which caused the violent criminal behavior.
Mr. Hawk said years of exposure to pornography at an early age led to a sexual addiction for Mr. Rivera, ultimately leading to his crimes.
Mr. Hawk argued that Mr. Rivera had reduced capacity in his frontal lobe, the area of the brain known to regulate judgment and impulse control. Mr. Hawk told the court that neuropsychiatrist Dr. Thomas Sachy was prevented from presenting colorized 3D PET scan models and testimony on what effects the reduced capacity would have on Mr. Rivera's behavior and ability to control his actions.
Mr. Craig argued the PET scans taken of Mr. Rivera's brain were conducted with no set protocols in place and were colorized by laboratories in California with no set parameters.
During the original trial, Mr. Craig had medical experts from the Medical College of Georgia negate Dr. Sachy's claims.
Once he was found guilty of the murder, both parties said Mr. Rivera's behavior in the courtroom changed - leading to another point of appeal for Mr. Hawk.
"He turned on us the minute he realized they were going to find him guilty without the consideration of mental illness," Mr. Hawk said. "He even put himself on the stand two times. He looked at every juror and told them he didn't want to be out of jail right now, but in five years he might change mind. He was going to get out, and he was going to do the exact same thing and it was going to be on your head, and your head and your head," pointing toward the jury box as Mr. Rivera did during the trial.
Mr. Craig argued that Mr. Rivera's actions were deliberate, bucking the system only after his original ruse didn't win sympathy with the jury.
"In the first part of the trial, (Mr. Rivera's) defense was that 'I am mentally ill and I will be a good specimen for psychiatric study as opposed to a convicted murderer and that you should consider me as such, as a specimen, and deal with me accordingly,'" Mr. Craig said. "When the jury rejected what was put forth by Dr. Sachy in the second phase, we heard (Mr. Rivera say) 'I enjoyed every minute of everything that I did, and I will kill again if I am given the chance, and I am still thinking that there is a way that I can get away with this, after killing four women and almost killing a fifth.'"