Victims of the State

Jefferson County, AL

Walter Rhone, Jr.

Convicted 1999

Walter Lee Rhone Jr. was convicted of capital murder in connection with a drive-by shooting. His case caught the attention of California law students at UC Berkeley, who originally took the case because of procedural issues involving the pursuit of post-conviction appeals. “We started looking into his case and it wasn't until then that we realized not only was this guy innocent, but there was outrageous misconduct at every stage of his trial,” said an associate director, Ty Alper. Eventually, Alper, the law students, and the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta were able to get Rhone a new trial. He was released from prison in Feb. 2007 and now plans to pursue a career as a paralegal so he can help other wrongly convicted inmates.  [7/07]

 Orange County, CA

Earl Rhoney

Jan 20, 1994 (Irvine)

Earl Henry Rhoney IV was convicted of the murder of 46-year-old Patricia Lea Pratt. Pratt was beaten and strangled during a burglary at her home in the upscale Turtle Rock neighborhood of Irvine, CA. Rhoney had committed a burglary with six other teenagers about a mile from the Pratt residence more than a week prior to the murder. He was arrested for it two weeks after the murder. Eight months later, police followed Rhoney with a bloodhound upon Rhoney's release from juvenile hall for the prior burglary. Police had given the bloodhound, named Duchess, material extracted from Pratt's sweatshirt to sniff and videotaped the dog allegedly tracking the scent of Pratt's killer. The scent material was removed from the sweatshirt using a Dustbuster type device that was called a Scent Machine. This device was patented by the dog's handler, Larry Harris.
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 San Bernardino County, CA

William Richards

Aug 10, 1993 (Hesperia)

“William Richards was wrongly convicted in July 1997 of murdering his wife on August 10, 1993. He was sentenced to 25 yrs. to life in prison. Richards' conviction was after he had two trials end in hung juries. The prosecution's case was largely circumstantial, based on the fact that Richards was the person who found her body after he got off work. An expert also testified that a ‘bite mark’ on her [hand] was consistent with Richards' bite. In 2001 the California Innocence Project became involved in his case and in the fall of 2007 DNA testing of skin scrapings of the killer recovered from underneath his wife's fingernails excluded Richards. Richards filed a state habeas petition for a new trial based on among other things, the DNA evidence and the prosecution's bite mark expert repudiated his trial testimony as mistaken -- since the mark on her hand may not have been a bite. An evidentiary hearing was held on January 26, 2009. On August 10, 2009 San Bernardino County Judge Brian McCarville overturned Richards conviction, saying that the new evidence pointed ‘unerringly to innocence.’ Richards was exonerated after 16 years of incarceration, 4 prior to his conviction and 12 afterwards.” – FJDB

DeSoto County, FL 

James Richardson

Oct 25, 1967 (Arcadia)

James Joseph Richardson, a farm worker, was convicted of murdering his oldest child after all seven of his children were poisoned with the pesticide parathion. The children, six daughters and a son, ranged in age from 2 to 8. Richardson was believed to have murdered all seven, but for strategic reasons was only tried for the murder of one. If he had been acquitted, he could have been tried successively for murders of each of the others, giving the prosecution seven chances of a conviction. Richardson was sentenced to death.
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Kanawha County, WV

James Richardson

May 18, 1988 (Cross Lanes)

While standing outside his father's house on Big Tyler Road in Cross Lanes, WV, James E. Richardson, Jr. saw another house on fire. He entered the burning house and carried 3-year-old Lindsay Gilfilen to safety. Inside the house, police found the charred body of Lindsay's mother, Kelli. She had been bound, raped, and beaten to death. Richardson was arrested for the crime almost immediately. At trial, Fred Zain, an analyst at the West Virginia State Police crime laboratory, told the jury that Richardson's semen had been found on the victim. Richardson was convicted. DNA tests later proved Zain wrong and Richardson's conviction was vacated. The state did not retry Richardson and formally dismissed all charges against him in 1999.  (News Article) (48 Hours) (IP)  [5/08]

Kevin Richardson - See Central Park Five

Putnam County, OH 

Kenny Richey

June 30, 1986

Kenny Richey was sentenced to death for the murder of three-year-old Cynthia Collins. Richey was allegedly angry at an ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, so he allegedly set fire to the apartment above theirs, hoping the fire would burn through the concrete floor and injure them while they slept. The prosecution advanced this theory even though they seemed to agree that Richey knew that Cynthia Collins was sleeping in that apartment. During the fire, Richey had risked his life trying to rescue Cynthia, so his alleged actions do not make sense. Cynthia's mother, Hope Collins, had left in the middle of the night with a convicted drug dealer. When she came back after the fire, she faced prosecution for child abandonment, so she told authorities Richey had agreed to babysit Cynthia.

The prosecution also claimed Richey made vague statements at a party before the fire, saying the building was going to burn, almost as though they were statements about the party. Curiously, the alleged statements imply a casual motive instead of the proffered one. Whether true or not, vague statements are characteristic of perjured testimony. Individuals who lie on the stand typically do not want to get caught and will only readily make statements they can back away from. One witness later denied her testimony while another claimed Richey did not mean anything by the statement she testified to. Richey denied making such statements and thought it was stupid that he would make them if he intended to do what the prosecution alleged.

It was later learned that Cynthia started two previous fires. Carpet remnants from the burned apartment had been discarded and buried at the local dump. After the police retrieved the buried remnants, the remnants were said to contain traces of accelerants, gasoline, and paint thinner. The federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Richey's conviction in Jan. 2005. However, the state appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reinstated the conviction in Nov. 2005. The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Sixth Circuit Court, which again reversed Richey's conviction in Aug. 2007. In Dec. 2007, Richey was released after pleading no contest to involuntary manslaughter, child endangering and breaking and entering charges. The plea involved no admission of guilt. He received a time-served sentence.  [12/06]

Los Angeles County, CA

Adam Riojas, Jr.

Dec 8, 1989

Adam Riojas, Jr. was convicted of murdering Jose Rodarte in a drug related incident. Rodarte was shot twice and his body dumped from a van on a street. Riojas said he had loaned the van to two friends of his father, who had come by his Oceanside apartment. His girlfriend testified he spent the entire day of the murder with her in North County. Riojas had no criminal history except for an arrest for vandalism in a high school prank of toilet-papering a home. Riojas' father, Adam Sr., told numerous people shortly before his death that he was the killer, not his son. Adam Sr. had been involved in drugs and immigrant smuggling. Adam Jr. was released on the second unanimous recommendation of his parole board. (Gov. Davis vetoed the first recommendation; but Gov. Schwarzenegger did not oppose the second). Riojas served 13 years of 15 years to life sentence.  (Archives)  [4/08]

Saginaw County, MI 

Alexander Ripan

Oct 25, 1919

Alexander Ripan was convicted of the murder of Luca Tirpula, a prosperous farmer. The crime occurred near Saginaw, MI. Ripan was convicted because his revolver had been fired recently, and a bullet taken from Tirpula's body dropped easily through the barrel of the gun. In 1929, after serving ten years of imprisonment, Ripan escaped prison, but was rearrested six years later. The prosecutor, Crane, who had brought Ripan to trial was by then not satisfied with his conviction and worked to get Ripan a new trial. In 1939, at Ripan's new trial, an expert testified that in light of recent discoveries in ballistics, the evidence that convicted him now exonerated him: A bullet fired from a revolver could not afterwards be reinserted into the same gun except with great difficulty. The trial judge subsequently dismissed the murder indictment against Ripan.  (Not Guilty)  [10/08]

Forsyth County, NC 

Alfred Rivera

Mar 22, 1996

Alfred Milton Rivera was convicted of murdering drug dealers Michael A. Nicholson and James E. Smith. He was sentenced to death. The N.C. Supreme Court overturned his conviction because jurors had not been allowed to hear testimony that others who pleaded guilty to the murders may have framed Rivera. Rivera was acquitted at retrial in 1999.  (DPIC) (Appeal)  [9/05]

 San Bernardino County, CA

Rivera & Walpole

Jan 16, 1965

In 1965 Antonio Rivera and his wife, Merla, were unable to support their seriously ill 3-year-old daughter, Judy Rivera, and abandoned her at a distant San Francisco gas station in the hope that she would receive better care. The San Francisco Chronicle reported the finding of the little girl the next day. In the years following, the couple divorced, and Merla remarried, becoming Mrs. Walpole. In 1973, the body of a little girl was found near Fontana, about ten miles from where the couple had lived. Authorities concluded the found body was Judy Rivera and that her parents must have murdered her. When Rivera and Walpole were brought to trial, the jury did not believe their story and both were convicted of murder. Before sentencing, the judge set aside the verdict and directed the prosecution to investigate the parents' claim. An investigator located the girl mentioned in the newspaper story and after tests were performed, authorities were satisfied that the girl was in all likelihood Judy Rivera.  (CWC) (ISI) (NY Times)  [7/05]

Faustino Rivera - See Arcadia Innocents


Rivera & Calderón

Jan 24, 2002 (Ensenada)

Francisco Rivera Agredano and his brother-in-law, Alfonso Calderón León were convicted of drug trafficking after 37 pounds of marijuana was found in the door of a Nissan Pathfinder SUV that Rivera was driving. Calderón was a passenger. The two were stopped at a checkpoint near Ensenada, which is more than 70 miles from the U.S. Border. Rivera, a Tijuana printer, had bought the car four months before for $2,600 at a U.S. government auction in San Ysidro, CA. It had previously been seized when 59 pounds of marijuana was found inside its gasoline tank.

Rivera had crossed the U.S.-Mexican border five times without incident after he bought the car. Under Mexican law the two men were presumed guilty. They were convicted after a Mexican judge rejected their claim that U.S. customs did not thoroughly search the car. The two were sentenced to five years in prison. The U.S., not only ignored their pleas for help, but fought to keep exonerating evidence from their attorneys. After a year in prison, the convictions of the two were vacated after Rivera's lawyer was able to convince a Mexicali appeals court that the moldy marijuana found inside the Pathfinder was too old to be of resale value.

Rivera was later awarded $551,000 in a suit against the U.S. government, and may get an additional sum for costs incurred by his U.S. lawyers. Calderón could not sue because because of a U.S. Supreme Court precedent barring lawsuits against the federal government for incidents arising outside the U.S. U.S. District Judge Emily Hewitt ruled that she did not know how customs missed the contraband, but she rejected the claim advanced by Rivera's lawyers that the Customs Service does not thoroughly search vehicles because doing so could cause damage them and decrease their resale value. In legal documents, U.S. attorneys said the government did nothing wrong and that the onus is on the buyers to make sure the cars are drug free. According to Teresa Trucchi, attorney for Rivera and Calderón, “I don't think 'as is' to the normal consumer means, 'If I buy it and it's stuffed full of drugs that I'm unaware of and I get arrested, that's my problem.'”  (SD Union-Tribune) (CBS)  [10/08]

Queens County, NY

Joshua Rivera

Sept 19, 1992

Joshua Rivera was convicted of the murder of Leonard Aquino and the attempted murder of Paul Peralta. Both victims were shot at 4725 48th St. in Woodside. Since Rivera's conviction, two witnesses have surfaced who say Rivera was not the shooter and that they unwittingly gave the actual perpetrators a ride to and from the shooting. Peralta, who identified Rivera at trial, was reportedly wavering on his identification of Rivera. A neighbor who rendered first aid at the time of the shooting said Peralta had told her that it had all happened too quickly for him to recognize his assailants. Despite maintaining his innocence, Rivera pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Dec. 2006, in exchange for a time served sentence.  (Strange Justice) (NY Times)  [1/07]

Lake County, IL 

Juan Rivera

Aug 11, 1992 (Waukegan)

After interrogating him for four days, police alleged that 20-year-old Juan Rivera confessed to the rape and murder of 11-year-old Holly Staker. Rivera, who had an IQ of 79, later testified that he was coerced into signing the confession that the police admit they wrote. No physical evidence or eyewitnesses linked Rivera to the crime, and an electronic bracelet he was wearing due to a burglary conviction established he was home at the time of the crime. However, Rivera was convicted in 1993. Rivera's conviction was reversed in 1996, but he was convicted again on retrial and sentenced to life in prison. Rivera was notified in 2005 that DNA tests had excluded him as the source of the recovered semen. In court filings, prosecutors argued that Rivera could still be guilty of Stacker's murder, as the 11-year-old pre-pubescent victim may have engaged in consensual sex with someone earlier the same day she was killed. However, Rivera's conviction was overturned. In 2009, he was retried. After initially reporting they were deadlocked, a jury ended up convicting him.  (Chicago Tribune) (2009 Post-Trial Motion)  [6/05]

Broward County, FL 

Michael Rivera

Jan 30, 1986

Michael Thomas Rivera was convicted of the abduction and murder of Staci Jazvac, 11, and sentenced to death. Jazvac disappeared on Jan. 30, 1986 while riding her bike in Lauderdale Lakes. Her body was found 15 days later in Coral Springs. Rivera allegedly abducted Staci while driving his friend's blue van. At Rivera's trial, a forensic expert testified that hairs found in the van “could be concluded as being” from Staci's head. DNA tests in 2003 show that the hairs were not from Staci. Rivera's friend now swears he had the blue van on the night of the murder.  [11/05]

Delaware County, PA

Robert Rivera

Aug 10, 1999

Robert Norman Rivera was convicted in 2002 of murdering his 20-month-old daughter, Katelyn Rivera. On Aug. 10, 1999, Robert picked up Katelyn at her day care in Boothwyn, PA, took her to the zoo, to a fast-food restaurant, and to other places. Technically, Aug. 10 was not a scheduled day for Robert to have custody of Katelyn. Robert then repeatedly tried to return her to her mother, Jennifer Helton, but Helton refused to take her. Apparently, Helton wanted greater custody rights and wanted to prolong Rivera's care of her so she could argue that he did not return her. Later that night Rivera took Katelyn to a tourist location (Longwood Gardens) and while there said he met a couple and ended up giving them custody of Katelyn as he had no money to continue caring for her.
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Kings County, NY

Vincent Rivers

Sept 16, 1978

“Vincent Rivers was convicted of murder in the second degree in a Kings County retrial in [Nov. 1979], following [a hung jury mistrial]. He was sentenced to twenty-five years to life in prison. [The victim, Dutch Reid, was shot and killed at 2080 Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn.] A third trial ended in a mistrial. A fourth trial [in 1983], at which Rivers was again convicted of murder, was reversed because of numerous prejudicial errors by the trial court. On July 17, 1986, following a fifth trial, Rivers was acquitted on all counts.” – Inevitable Error  (Appeals)