Former border agent gets 30 years to life in hatchet attack

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 29, 2011 11:31 PM
Former border agent gets 30 years to life in hatchet attack

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A former U.S. Border Patrol agent was sentenced to a prison term of 30 years to life on Tuesday for a bloody hatchet attack on a sleeping couple he mistook for his estranged wife and her boyfriend.

Gamalier Reyes Rivera, 34, was found guilty by a San Diego County jury last month of premeditated attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon and burglary stemming from the July 2009 attack.

The jury acquitted him of a charge of torture.

Rivera was arrested shortly after the predawn assault, which left one of his victims, Chris Anguiano, blind and suffering from brain damage.

"He tried to cut my head off," Anguiano told local television station NBC San Diego. "I thought I was dying."

Anguiano was struck by eight hatchet blows in all. His girlfriend, Samantha Shaffer, who was sleeping beside Anguiano when the attack began, suffered deep cuts to her legs and lost the tip of one of her big toes.

Rivera's intended victims -- his estranged spouse, Erika Von der Heyde, and her boyfriend, Jesus Vinas -- were asleep in another bedroom of the suburban Escondido house and awoke to the sound of screams.

Deputy District Attorney George Loyd said it was clear that Rivera, armed with two hatchets, meant to kill both Vinas and his wife because he had first attacked the man he encountered when he crept into the wrong bedroom.

The assailant fled when confronted by Vinas after the attack on the wrong couple.

Rivera, a former Border Patrol agent who joined the force in 2003, testified that he went to the home intending only to frighten his wife, whom he married in 2002, divorced in 2005 and remarried in 2007.

The couple, who had a daughter together, filed for divorce again in 2009 and were living apart and dating other people when the attack took place.

Loyd said the assault was foreshadowed by a "to-do list" that Rivera made in 2005 detailing how to kill his wife and get away with it.

Before he was sentenced, Rivera told the victims he was extremely remorseful for his actions, saying, "I wish I could make amends for everything that happened." To Anguiano, he added, "I can't imagine what you've been going through."

In his own statement at the sentencing, Anguiano told Rivera, "May God be with you ... that's all you have left. You're nothing but a number."

(Additional reporting by Marty Graham)

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Bohan)