20-Year-Old Cold Case in Tampa Ends in Guilty Verdict

June 30, 2022 Criminal Defense, Sex Crimes, Violent Crimes

After a case was considered cold for over two decades, a guilty verdict has finally been reached. With the evidence including a palm print and matching DNA, Antonio Rivers, 41, has been convicted of a charge of sexual battery with a weapon and armed trespassing.

The defense team put up a fight, claiming that there were several issues with the incriminating evidence the prosecution presented in the trial. We will cover the details of the crime, sexual battery with a weapon in Florida, and the defense’s argument.

What was the Incident?

On December 17th, 2000, the anonymous victim was returning to her sister’s second-floor apartment in Tampa that she was staying at. She was only 20-years-old at the time. She had been with her mother the whole day and was just dropped off in the evening.

She didn’t have a key, so she knocked on the door and was surprised to see a man open it. His head was wrapped up with a white t-shirt, and he was holding a gun. The victim slapped the gun away from her, saying, “Stop playing.”

Then she looked past the man and noticed that the belongings in the apartment were scattered everywhere, and that the couch had been flipped over. She realized she had just interrupted a burglary.

The man holding the gun brought her inside and made her lay on the floor. “I was just praying, [thinking] please don’t kill me,” the victim said.

She thought she heard other voices in the apartment but never saw anyone else. Then the gunman forced her up and into the bathroom. He then ordered her to take her pants off and proceeded to rape her. “It felt like a long time,” she said.

He told her not to move after it ended, and he fled from the apartment. After making sure the gunman was gone, she called the police and was taken to a crisis center. The victim received a rape exam, and the samples showed the DNA results, but investigators couldn’t match it to anyone in the national criminal database. Due to this reason, the case went cold.

In the two decades after the burglary and rape, Tampa police started to reinvestigate unsolved cases. They reexamined the evidence from the case, and used a fingerprint analyst to identify a palm print that was left on the apartment’s bathtub. The fingerprint was once again attempted to match someone in the jail booking database. This time the print matched to Rivers.

A search warrant was obtained by the police to collect Rivers’ DNA. The DNA from the rape exam was also a match to Rivers. This month the case finally reached the courtroom. On June 14th, 2022, the jury panel of four men and two women deliberated for over two hours on the details of the case.

Defense’s Issue with the Evidence

The prosecution team urged the jury to focus on the science of the evidence, which was the matching palm print from the bathtub and the matching DNA from the rape exam. However, they acknowledged that the evidence was not perfect.

Assistant State Attorney Cristina Castillo said in her closing argument, “We know now what detectives did not 20 years ago. And the science is what shows us that.”

The defense team used the imperfection of the evidence for their argument. Some of their main points included that certain evidence went missing over the years, and that the DNA samples may have not been preserved properly. The defense also attacked the police for not recording an interview with Rivers from 2020, and that the forensic investigators had not tested certain items in the apartment.

In addition, the victim had told the police a fake name when she first called about the rape. She claimed that it was only because she did not want to get arrested for a misdemeanor she had a warrant for.

Assistant Public Defender David Hall addressed the jury: “The state’s given you a 21-year-old case of lost evidence, misrouted evidence, destroyed and degraded evidence…with a victim that has lied from day one. Each component of this evidence against Mr. Rivers contains reasonable doubt.”

Despite the issues the defense team pointed out about the case’s evidence, the jury came to a verdict on June 14th, 2022. After two decades had passed, Antonio Rivers was found guilty of sexual battery with a weapon and armed trespassing. Rivers may be facing up to life in prison for the crime. The sentencing date has been released for July 7th.

Sexual Battery with a Weapon in Florida

In the state of Florida, sexual battery and rape are synonymous. This refers to when an individual compels a victim to engage in sexual intercourse without the victim’s consent. Florida Statute section 794.011 covers all of the details of sexual battery and its violations.

Under Florida law, a person who commits sexual battery on a victim who is 12 years of age or older without the victim’s consent, and in the process uses or threatens to use a deadly weapon has committed a life felony. This also includes if the accused individual has used actual physical force that is likely to cause serious personal injury. The penalties for a life felony in Florida include a fine of up to $15,000 and up to 30 years in prison.

For more information on sexual battery, find our informative page here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Getting accused of sexual battery is an extremely serious charge in Florida. You can face harsh punishments including expensive fines and potential prison time. There are also additional consequences for sexual battery depending on the age of the victim, which could potentially lead to you getting put on the state’s sexual predator registration.

If you or a loved one have been accused of a sexual battery charge, make sure you prioritize reaching out to a sex crime defense attorney. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have experience representing clients all across the state for various charges and will work tirelessly to gain your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today for a free consultation.

 Written by Karissa Key

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