Man acquitted of shooting Clairton officer, sentenced for robbery
Clairton police Officer James Kuzak comments Thursday on the sentencing of Emilio Rivera in connection with the incident in which the officer was shot and paralyzed.
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Emilio Rivera, who was found not guilty of the shooting that paralyzed Clairton police Officer James Kuzak, was sentenced Thursday to 50 to 100 years in prison on counts of robbery and burglary.
That is more time in prison than he would have received if he had been convicted of one count each of third-degree murder, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter combined, his defense attorney noted.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Edward J. Borkowski said during the sentencing that he was compelled to impose the lengthy prison term because Rivera is a violent, dangerous man.
Although attorney Paul Gettleman did not say that the judge did an end run around the jury's verdict, he said that could be gleaned by the sentence.
"There were no dead bodies, and 50 to 100 years is a lot of time. If he had been found guilty of everything, I can't imagine him getting any more time," Mr. Gettleman said.
Judge Borkowski sentenced Rivera after listening to a lengthy recitation of his criminal background, including a conviction of conspiracy to commit murder, from chief trial Deputy District Attorney Daniel Fitzsimmons,.
"Mr. Rivera is a decidedly dangerous and incorrigible person," the judge said.
He sentenced him to 10 to 20 years in prison consecutively for each first-degree felony. The judge noted the consecutive sentences mark "separate crimes, separate harms to separate individuals."
Rivera, 27, was found guilty by a jury Aug. 16 of entering a home on Miller Avenue in Clairton on April 4, 2011, holding a gun to the head of a 4-year-old girl and putting a gun in the mouth of the girl's mother. A man in the home was pistol whipped.
The co-defendant in the trial, Marcus Andrejco, 19, was found not guilty on all counts.
After deliberating for two days, the jury in the case returned a split verdict on Rivera.
"That's the wonder of the jury system," Mr. Gettleman said. "They probably thought they were giving him a break, and maybe the judge undercut that break."
During the sentencing hearing, Rivera asked the judge who he was permitted to address in the courtroom. After conferring with his lawyer, he spoke briefly to Judge Borkowski.
"I honestly feel like there will never be justice for this case, period, when all you have are victims," he said. "I became a victim myself. That's all."
Later, his mother, Mayra Rivera, who was joined in the hallway by about two dozen friends and family members, said she believed her son was targeted because he's Latino.
"The sentence is very unfair," she said. "My son is innocent. It's because of Officer Kuzak. It's a racist issue. My son did not shoot Kuzak. It was proven by the jury."
Officer Kuzak was not permitted to give a victim impact statement.
"I guess I find some comfort that the person who knows who shot me is going to spend the rest of his life in prison," he said.
Officer Kuzak was one of the first officers to respond to the 911 call for the home invasion. He was stationed at the back door when it burst open, and he was shot three times -- once in the chest and once in each arm.
Allegheny County homicide detectives investigated the case, and arrests were made quickly. However, two men identified by the woman as having been her attackers were cleared.
Mr. Andrejco was arrested four days after the incident; Rivera was picked up six months later.
The case was tough for prosecutors, even though both defendants gave confessions to police. The trial lasted five weeks.
During the sentencing hearing, Mr. Fitzsimmons gave a synopsis of Rivera's criminal record. His first charge came at age 13 for stealing a car. While he was under court supervision in that case, the prosecutor said, the boy stole a neighbor's gun. He later was arrested on charges of having crack cocaine and for being a felon in possession of firearms by the federal government.
In September 2004, Rivera pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and reckless endangerment against a man he said assaulted a family member. The victim was shot six times in the torso, beaten and kicked, Mr. Fitzsimmons said. Rivera was sentenced to 111/2 to 23 months in prison in that case.
"From the age of 13, the defendant has engaged in a continuing series, and escalating series, of offenses involving gun and drugs," Mr. Fitzsimmons said. "It wasn't just a robbery, it was a very violent home invasion."
John Burkoff, a criminal law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said given Rivera's criminal history and the facts surrounding the case, it's hard to second-guess Judge Borkowski's sentence.
"A judge has the discretion, in a case where he thinks the facts and circumstances mandate it, to throw the book at him," Mr. Burkoff said.
Mr. Gettleman said his client will appeal.
As Officer Kuzak continues his recovery -- the trial set back his physical therapy -- he said he will continue to have fun "whether it's walking, sitting or rolling.
"It's over. We can move on."
First Published November 16, 2012 12:00 am