Retrial Set To Start In Art Museum Murder

Posted: June 07, 1987

Fourteen years after his arrest for a rape and murder committed on the grounds of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Miguel Rivera is scheduled to face retrial on those charges this week.

Rivera, 39, is one of six men originally charged with the drowning of Kevin Wolf, 18, of Manayunk, in a pool outside the Art Museum and the gang rape of Wolf's girlfriend early in the morning of June 27, 1973.

One of the six defendants, Juan Garcia, in 1974 pleaded guilty in exchange for a reduced sentence and testified against the others, all of whom said they were innocent but were convicted in separate trials.

One of the remaining five, Paul Valderamma, later was set free when his attorney established that he had been in Puerto Rico when the crimes were committed.

Rivera's unrelenting protests of innocence from prison prompted a series of reinvestigations of his case in the late 1970s and early 1980s and ultimately led former District Attorney Edward G. Rendell to agree to a new trial on the ground of "fundamental fairness." After nine years in prison, Rivera was released on bail in January 1983, pending the new trial.

A variety of issues had cast doubt on Rivera's guilt and the fairness of his 1974 trial. Five alibi witnesses were not called to testify at his trial, and police and prosecutors withheld information important to Rivera's defense, records show. Garcia, the key prosecution witness, told varying versions of the crime. And in 1981 Garcia recanted his testimony against Rivera altogether and disclaimed any personal role in the crime.

Garcia has since disavowed his recantation, according to sources familiar with the case, and may appear once again as a prosecution witness against Rivera.

Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Ribner, who will preside at the retrial, said that jury selection would begin Tuesday and that the trial was expected to last two to three weeks.

In the years since Rivera's release, his attorney, Peter C. Bowers, had sought to avoid retrial, saying Rivera's first trial was so tainted by the alleged misconduct of prosecutors and police that a second trial would amount to double jeopardy. Ribner rejected that argument but noted in an opinion in May 1986 that "a lot of things happened (in the first trial) that perhaps shouldn't have happened."

Assistant District Attorney Neil Kitrosser, who conducted a six-month reinvestigation of the Rivera case in 1982 and turned up some of the evidence that Rivera is expected to use in his defense now, will be the prosecutor.

Among the evidence found by Kitrosser was a statement to police in July 1973 by a man and a woman who said they had seen Rivera wandering along the street in the Fairmount section about the time the crimes were being committed outside the Art Museum. That statement was withheld by police at the time of Rivera's first trial.

Kitrosser said last week that he was determined that this time there would be a fair trial, in which "all the admissible facts from both sides" would be presented to the jury.

"Maybe, as a result of that, if the verdict is guilty, it will be accepted by the community," Kitrosser said.

There has been a longstanding feeling in the Hispanic community that police were overaggressive in their hunt for the perpetrators of the Art Museum crimes and that the wrong people might have been convicted and sent to prison for them.

Wolf's girlfriend told police that six Hispanic men attacked them as they slept in a car on the front plaza of the museum about 3 a.m. She told police that she was dragged into the nearby bushes and raped by several of the men. Wolf's body was found floating in a pool beside the museum steps. She was unable to identify any of the defendants at trial.

As police moved into the Fairmount section in search of information, Juan Garcia told a police officer on the street that he had heard several names linked to the crime.

Later, under interrogation at the Police Administration Building, Garcia named himself, Rivera and four others as the rapists and killers.

Rivera, a drug user and unemployed meatcutter who had no prior arrests for

violent or sex crimes, turned himself in to a police officer on July 8, 1973, after he heard that he was being sought in connection with the crimes.

The officer who took him into custody later testified that Rivera ''actually forced himself on me," saying he wanted to "clear himself."

But after a 15-hour interrogation by homicide detectives, Rivera signed a statement saying he participated in the crimes.

Rivera later disavowed the statement, saying the police had beaten him. The police denied using abusive tactics.

The statement was not used at Rivera's 1974 trial because the prosecutor, Frank DiSimone, feared that the length of time taken by police to extract it might cause an appellate court to reverse a conviction.

Kitrosser said "it remains to be seen" whether he will introduce the statement at Rivera's forthcoming trial.

Rivera, who has passed a lie-detector test in his claim of innocence, had been stabbed in the chest by his wife during an argument on the night of the Art Museum crimes. As a result, he was able to account for his time through police records to within 15 minutes of the rape and murder.

Rivera has always said that after being treated for the stab wound and questioned by police, he left the Ninth District police station, 20th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, about 2:45 a.m. and went home, walking part of the way with two friends.

When he arrived at his apartment in the Fairmount section, he has said, he found his infant child alone and his wife gone; he went out looking for her but could not find her, so he called police and reported that his baby had been abandoned.

Police answered his complaint about 4:30 a.m. and took the baby to a child- care center.

Several witnesses who say they saw Rivera or were with him during portions of the critical period from 2:45 to 4:30 a.m. are expected to testify at the retrial.

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