A Single Hair

After a severely flawed trial, Michael Rivera was convicted of killing a little girl. New DNA evidence may help him.

Soon he began prowling apartment complexes in central Broward, peeping into windows, and stealing one-piece women's bathing suits from clothes dryers. Putting them on, he says, sexually aroused him and made him feel "closer" to women. He then began exposing his genitals in public while wearing the bathing suits. He'd expose himself for hours at a time to as many females as he could until he reached orgasm -- preferably while one of his victims was watching. Rivera was attracted not only to women but to little girls as young as ten years of age. At age 16 he dropped out of Boyd Anderson High School, and during the next four years, he was charged several times with exposing himself and indecent assaults on children. (He admits he sometimes would touch, but not physically hurt or rape, his victims.)

At age 20 Rivera was sentenced to five years in prison. Inside Brevard Correctional Institution, he became a self-described "Butch Queen," dressing effeminately and allowing at least two men to have sex with him. Rivera says he doesn't consider himself gay. "I don't think I ever was," he says. "I'm not physically attracted to men. I attribute it to some type of emotional attachment I was looking for, you know, loneliness that I was experiencing."

He says a sex-offender program he attended while in prison backfired terribly. In the meetings Rivera heard stories from men who attacked and raped women and children. Admittedly "weak-hearted and weak-minded," he soon began fantasizing about violence and rape. He nevertheless informed a defense attorney that he was cured. "I had all kinds of feelings bottled up..., [and] the way I relieved myself is by exposure for a temporary good feeling," he wrote from jail on New Year's Day 1983. "I tried making these women feel as bad as I do. I have corrected that part of me."

Rivera resumed exposing himself soon after his July 1984 release. He added a new vice as well: crack cocaine, a drug he says dramatically escalated his problems. He couldn't hold down a job, he asserts, and began stealing to support his habit. Around this time Rivera created an alter ego named Tony. "While Michael is a friendly and kind person, Tony is an angry, violent man," wrote former Rivera attorney Harun Shabazz in a 1995 appeal. Psychiatrists determined that Tony served as a defense mechanism, an escape from Rivera's drug-filled, sexually out-of-control existence. Without Tony, Shabazz wrote, Rivera would have killed himself.

Not long after he was freed, Rivera acted upon his rape fantasies. In a dark apartment complex in Pompano Beach, he walked up behind a woman in a parking lot and put her in a chokehold, knocking her out. "It was chaos," he says of that attempted rape. "It was like there was no order in the world." In a frenzy he took off her pants but ran away before he could sexually assault her.

He soon followed this with an attack on an 11-year-old girl at Green Glades Apartments in Coral Springs. On July 10, 1985, he crept up behind the youngster and employed the chokehold to render her unconscious. "I was really tense, shaky, and kind of oblivious to what was going on around me," he told Patsy Ceros-Livingston, a clinical psychologist who evaluated him in 1986 before his murder trial. Again he fled before assaulting his victim. Feeling remorse he went to a nearby pay phone and called several Green Glades residents, telling them the girl needed help. She recovered, but a medical examiner determined that, had the girl been choked for three more seconds, she would have died. Rivera read of his attack in the next day's newspaper. "It gave me a shitty feeling," he told Ceros-Livingston, adding that he never tried to grab anyone again.

Rivera did, however, continue exposing himself, and on November 4, 1985, Coral Springs police arrested him for indecent exposure at the Green Glades complex. During police questioning, investigators asked him about the attack on the 11-year-old, but he denied doing it and was let go.

A few months later, news broke of Staci's disappearance.


Another of Rivera's perversions was obscene phone calls -- and he was prolific. He had lists of hundreds of phone numbers and dozens of female regulars, including Peck. Rivera admits he told Peck that he killed Staci but contends the "confession" was a fantasy. He says it sexually excited him to pretend he had abducted, raped, and killed the girl he'd read about in the news. "You have to understand; I was in a state of mind and in a state of behavior and a fantasy life that was just spiraling downward," he says. "The more obscene or the more morally reprehensible something would sound, it was like a harder and harder drug to get a certain effect. Fantasizing about stuff like that... was just the next step. Another part of it was that it kept them on the phone."

The call to Peck was clearly the most damning piece of evidence against him. Yet the call was full of details inconsistent with the crime. Staci, for instance, was wearing blue jeans, not silky shorts. Investigators couldn't prove that ether was used and never even tested for it. The body had been discovered in a field in Coral Springs (roughly a 20-minute drive from where Staci was abducted), not in Lake Okeechobee. As for Rivera's claim he had intercourse with Staci, there was no evidence of rape, and then-Broward County medical examiner Ronald Wright said in a sworn deposition that he "doubted" she had been sexually assaulted. She had been found with her pants unzipped and her panties torn at the seam, but Wright testified that postmortem bloating could have caused that.

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2 comments
vicdevore
vicdevore

I lived on that field in Lauderdale Lakes from birth, 1979 until 1987.  I remember a time when I was riding my bike with my old brother through the field, the same field Staci rode her bike through, and I can remember making it to the rear parking/truck loading area behind Winn Dixie.  I remember a huge puddle in the middle of the parking lot, and I remember a van with two men, and I remember my brother being alarmed or scared, the van seemed to be stuck in the water, and the men in the van seemed unusually and suspiciously interested in us, and my brother re-routed us towards Oakland Park Blvd so we could make it back home safely.  I don't know if this was before or after Staci was murded, but I would assume it was before.  This is a memory that somewhat haunting because I know what happened to Staci... very creepy.


vicdevore
vicdevore

I lived on that field in Lauderdale Lakes from birth, 1979 until 1987.  I remember a time when I was riding my bike with my old brother through the field, the same field Staci rode her bike through, and I can remember making it to the rear parking/truck loading area behind Winn Dixie.  I remember a huge puddle in the middle of the parking lot, and I remember a van with two men, and I remember my brother being alarmed or scared, the van seemed to be stuck in the water, and the men in the van seemed unusually and suspiciously interested in us, and my brother re-routed us towards Oakland Park Blvd so we could make it back home safely.  I don't know if this was before or after Staci was murded, but I would assume it was before.  This is a memory that somewhat haunting because I know what happened to Staci... very creepy.


 
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