Rivera v. State, 70563

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Citation561 So.2d 536
Docket NumberNo. 70563,70563
Parties15 Fla. L. Weekly S235, 22 A.L.R.5th 813 Michael T. RIVERA, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
Decision Date19 April 1990

Page 536

561 So.2d 536
15 Fla. L. Weekly S235, 22 A.L.R.5th 813
Michael T. RIVERA, Appellant,
STATE of Florida, Appellee.
No. 70563.
Supreme Court of Florida.
April 19, 1990.
Rehearing Denied June 22, 1990.

H. Dohn William, Jr., Sp. Public Defender, Fort Lauderdale, for appellant.

Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen., and Joan Fowler, Asst. Atty. Gen., West Palm Beach, for appellee.

Page 537

BARKETT, Justice.

Michael T. Rivera appeals his conviction for first-degree murder and the sentence of death. 1 We affirm both the conviction and sentence.

Eleven-year-old Staci Lynn Jazvac left her Lauderdale Lakes home on bicycle at about 5:30 p.m. on January 30, 1986, to purchase poster board at a nearby shopping center. A cashier recalled having sold her a poster board between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m. When Staci failed to return by dusk, her mother began to search. At about 7:30 p.m. the mother encountered a Broward County Deputy Sheriff, who had Staci's bicycle in the trunk of his car. The deputy found the bicycle abandoned in a field alongside the shopping center. A police investigation ensued.

Police first connected Michael Rivera to Staci's murder through a complaint filed by Starr Peck, a Pompano Beach resident. She testified that she had received approximately thirty telephone calls during September 1985 from a man who identified himself as "Tony." He would discuss his sexual fantasies and describe the women's clothing he wore, such as pantyhose and one-piece body suit. She received the last telephone call from "Tony" after Staci's murder. Ms. Peck testified that he said he had "done something very terrible.... I'm sure you've heard about the girl Staci.... I killed her and I didn't mean to.... I had a notion to go out and expose myself. I saw this girl getting off her bike and I went up behind her." She testified that he had admitted putting ether over Staci and dragging her into the back of the van where he sexually assaulted her. Rivera had been employed by Starr Peck, and she identified him as "Tony."

On February 13, Detectives Richard Scheff and Phillip Amabile of the Broward County Sheriff's Department took Rivera into custody on unrelated outstanding warrants and transported him to headquarters where they told him that they wanted to speak to him. Detective Scheff testified that Rivera responded, "If I talk to you guys, I'll spend the next 20 years in jail." After reading Rivera his Miranda rights, 2 Detective Scheff told Rivera that someone had advised them that Rivera had information about the disappearance of Staci Jazvac. The detective testified that Rivera admitted making the obscene phone calls to Starr Peck but denied having abducted or murdered Staci.

In subsequent interviews, Rivera admitted that he liked exposing himself to girls between ten and twenty years of age. He preferred the Coral Springs area because its open fields reduced the likelihood of getting caught. He would often borrow a friend's van and commented that "every time I get in a vehicle, I do something terrible." Rivera then admitted to two incidents. In one, he said he had exposed himself to a girl pushing a bike. When asked what he did with her, Rivera replied: "Tom, I can't tell you. I don't want to go to jail. They'll kill me for what I've done." In the other, he said he had grabbed another young girl and pulled her into some bushes near a Coral Springs apartment complex.

Staci's body was discovered on February 14 in an open field in the city of Coral Springs, several miles from the site of the abduction. Dr. Ronald Keith Wright, a forensic pathologist, testified that most of the upper part of the body had decomposed and that the body was undergoing early skeletonization. The doctor concluded that death was a homicide caused by asphyxiation, which he attributed to ether or choking.

Dr. Wright observed that the body was completely clothed, although the jeans were unzipped and partially pulled down about the hips, and the panties were partially torn. Dr. Wright opined that this could be the result of the expansion of gasses during decomposition and not sexual molestation. He was unable to determine whether she was sexually assaulted. He discovered a bruise on the middle of the forehead that occurred before death, but he

Page 538

could not testify with certainty as to the cause. He also observed a broken fingernail on her right hand index finger, which he could not interpret as evidence of a struggle. Dr. Wright believed that the body was carried to the field and dumped, and at that time Staci was either dead or unconscious.

The jury heard testimony from several of Rivera's fellow inmates. Frank Zuccarello testified that Rivera admitted that he had choked another child, Jennifer Goetz, in the same way he had choked Staci; that Rivera said he had tried to kill Jennifer but was frightened away; and that Rivera said he had taken Staci to the field where she screamed and resisted, and he choked her to death after things got out of hand. Rivera also admitted that he told Starr Peck that he had murdered Staci, saying that confiding in her was the biggest mistake of his life. William Moyer testified that Rivera had stated to him: "You know, Bill, I didn't do it, but Tony did it." He later overheard Rivera call Starr Peck and identify himself as "Tony." Peter Salerno testified that Rivera told him: "I didn't mean to kill the little Staci girl. I just wanted to look at her and play with her."

A manager of a Plantation restaurant testified that he had received over two hundred telephone calls during a two-year period from an anonymous male caller. On February 7, the Friday before Staci's body was discovered, the caller identified himself as "Tony" and said that he "had that Staci girl" while wearing pantyhose, and that he had put an ether rag over her face.

The jury returned a verdict of guilty as charged.

During the penalty phase, the state introduced evidence of prior convictions. 3 Rivera introduced the testimony of his sisters, Elisa and Miriam, through whom the jury learned that Rivera was himself the victim of child molestation. Rivera's present girlfriend testified that she had no concerns about leaving him with her children. Rivera's former girlfriend was allowed to testify under an alias. She expressed the opinion that Rivera had two personalities. Through Michael he demonstrated a good side and through "Tony" he exposed his dark side which compelled him to do terrible things.

Dr. Patsy Ceros-Livingston, a clinical psychologist, interviewed Rivera in jail. She diagnosed Rivera as having a borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by impulsivity, a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships, lack of control of anger, identity disturbance, affective instability, intolerance of being alone, and physically self-damaging acts. The doctor also diagnosed exhibitionism, voyeurism, and transvestism.

Dr. Ceros-Livingston opined that Rivera acted under extreme duress and that he had some special compulsive characteristics that substantially impaired his capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform this conduct to the requirement of the law.

The jury unanimously recommended the death penalty. The trial judge found four aggravating circumstances, 4 one statutory mitigating circumstance, 5 and no...

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