Correctional officer's murder paves way for family reunion

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Saturday, May 31, 2014
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A federal prisoner already serving a life sentence will get no extra time in custody for murdering a correctional officer at the Atwater prison.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A federal prisoner already serving a life sentence will get no extra time in custody for murdering a correctional officer at the Atwater prison. But the crime paved the way for a family reunion.

Jose Rivera, 22, was stabbed to death by two inmates back in June 2008. Friday, a judge sentenced one of the killers. James Guerrero broke down in tears as he told Rivera's family how ashamed he is of what he did and how he prays for all of them and for forgiveness. The apology came as a surprise, but it didn't change the family's mind about the punishment Guerrero should've gotten.

Mateo Newman and Jose Rivera spent just a short time together as children before Newman was given up for adoption at an early age. But years later, they both joined the military and nearly crossed paths.

"We were actually deployed at the same time in Iraq and I didn't even know he was there," said the U.S. Army sergeant.

Newman never saw his brother again. In June 2008, two inmates stabbed Rivera to death at the federal penitentiary in Atwater. Two years later, Newman started trying to track down his family.

"I started googling it and I wasn't able to find them, but then when I put his name in that's when I was able to find them," Newman said.

He was there with his family when James Guerrero was sentenced for the murder Friday. They talked about how much they all miss his smile, and how his acceptance letter to the California Highway Patrol academy came the day after he died. And they talked about the giant hole his murder has left in their hearts.

"I don't think we can ever move on," said Jose's mother, Terry Rivera. "I think the pain's there every day. The tragedy's the same."

The family thought Guerrero deserved the death penalty and they say even a tearful apology didn't change their minds.

Rivera's murder did prompt changes in federal prisons, though. Correctional officers are now able to wear stab-resistant vests and they're getting pepper spray to defend themselves.

And his death brought back Newman -- the long lost brother who now carries Rivera's Bible.

"I'm going to keep it and keep it with me at all times for the rest of my life," he said.

The other inmate involved in the stabbing is due to go on trial next year and for him, the death penalty is still on the table.