No additional time for man who killed Atwater prison guard

A mother's grief only gets worse as federal prosecutors agree to a deal with one of two men who murdered her son.
March 11, 2014 4:22:28 PM PDT
A mother's grief only gets worse as federal prosecutors agree to a deal with one of two men who murdered her son.

For killing a federal prison guard, the man gets no extra time in custody.

James Guerrero will avoid the death penalty despite admitting his role in the murder of Atwater correctional officer Jose Rivera.

Guerrero was already serving a life sentence for a third strike robbery in 1997 when he held Jose Rivera as another inmate stabbed the guard to death.

After pleading guilty to murder Tuesday, he'll go back to the penitentiary on a new life sentence -- one Rivera's mom says sends the wrong message.

Jose Rivera didn't stand a chance when two seasoned criminals decided to attack him inside the walls of the U.S. Penitentiary Atwater.

James Guerrero was implicated in another guard's murder in Guam in 1992, but appealed a conviction and won. Jose Sablan was a convicted killer in Guam. Both were shipped from the island territory to Atwater's high security facility.

"They believed if they continued to stay in Guam it would result in the death of either a correctional officer or staff member there or other inmates," said Michael Meserve of the Federal Prison Council, the union for correctional officers.

The only guns at the penitentiary are used to protect the perimeter by guards on patrol or in towers. So, armed with his keys and a radio, Rivera couldn't fend off the attack. Witnesses were helpless as well.

"There were two staff members watching as Sablan was repeatedly stabbing Jose while Guerrero was holding him down," Meserve said. "They could do little to nothing to stop it."

Since Rivera's death, the federal Bureau of Prisons says it's made stab-resistant vests available to all staff by request. They're also slowly introducing pepper spray as a weapon for correctional officers.

For Rivera's family, the changes are too late. But his mother and sister say they'll never forget the smile that was always on his face.

A frown crossed their faces when they talked to Action News about the U.S. Attorney's Office decision not to pursue the death penalty against Guerrero.

"All our correctional officers are unsafe right now because we just let another person go and say it's okay to murder another correctional officer and you just get a slap on the hand," said the guard's mother, Terry Rivera.

The death penalty is still on the table for Sablan, who is accused of stabbing Rivera almost 30 times. He's scheduled to face trial next April.


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