When Rivera was 13 years old, the family moved to the Treehouse Apartments in Tamarac, where he was allowed to roam the complex. "Unbeknownst to my parents, it was drug-infested," he says. "Within three months of living in Florida, I smoked my first joint and I was drinking."
It wasn't long before he was taking every drug he could find, from LSD to transmission sealant. He attended public school, and his grades, which had been A's and B's in New York, dropped to D's and F's. Around the same time an adult neighbor named Robert Donovan supplied him with beer and let him ride his off-road Kawasaki motorcycle. Then Donovan, who has since died, allegedly took the boy into his bedroom and performed oral sex on him, according to court records. "I knew it wasn't right, but it felt good," Rivera later told a psychologist. The sexual abuse by Donovan, Rivera says now, led him into a "tailspin, some serious identity-crisis action."
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.