Judge Frees Marine Who Says Sword Attack Was Self-Defense
By THOMAS W. KRAUSE
The Tampa Tribune
Published: June 18, 2008
TAMPA - A man charged with using a sword to attack his girlfriend's former husband was released on his own recognizance Tuesday pending resolution of his case.
The defendant, Andre Anthony Rivera, is a decorated Marine and Iraq war veteran who says the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office arrested the wrong guy. He says he was acting in self-defense.
Judge Walter Heinrich said the case has two distinct stories, one told by Rivera and one provided to deputies by the former husband.
"For the purposes of today's hearing and the things I see, I'm going to choose to believe your story," Heinrich told Rivera's attorney Tuesday. "Maybe in the future, it might bear out differently, but he has earned the respect."
Initially, Rivera, 36, was held without the possibility of bail. Heinrich's decision allowed Rivera's release on his own recognizance. He is allowed to report to active duty in Arizona, where he is stationed.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said officials were looking into the arrest and the judge's decision, but were not able to comment immediately.
In court, Rivera's girlfriend told the judge that she was in fear for her life and Rivera helped her.
Nadia Reynolds testified that she and Rivera went to her former in-law's Ruskin house on Thursday morning to pick up her children. When she got there, she was told that the children were in a mobile home behind the house with their father. Reynolds told the judge that she did not realize the children's father, Jeremy David "J.D." Reynolds, was living there.
Nadia Reynolds told the judge that she went into the trailer upset and sent the children outside, where Rivera buckled them into the car.
A sheriff's report states that Rivera then came into the trailer uninvited and grappled with J.D. Reynolds. Rivera grabbed a sword that was mounted on the wall and cut Reynolds in the arm, severely wounding him, the report states. When Reynolds went to get a shotgun for protection, Rivera grabbed the gun and left, the report states.
Nadia Reynolds said that is not true.
After she sent the children outside, she testified Tuesday, J.D. Reynolds pulled out a sawed-off shotgun and pointed it at her. She said she screamed for Rivera.
Marine Instincts Kicked In
Rivera's attorney, Nestor Castillo, told the judge that Rivera came inside, saw the gun and reacted.
"His instincts as a Marine kicked in, and he attacked," Castillo said.
Rivera, Castillo said, did grab a sword off the wall, but he would have grabbed anything to aid his attempt to disarm J.D. Reynolds.
The gun fell to the floor, and both men scrambled for it, Castillo said. Rivera won the struggle. Rivera and Nadia Reynolds immediately went to the sheriff's office, told their story and handed over the gun. Rivera was arrested at his home Thursday afternoon.
"They cooperated fully," Castillo said. "Then, he got arrested. Frankly, I don't understand it and we're going to vigorously defend it."
Castillo said Reynolds is a convicted felon, from a 1997 charge that he disturbed contents of a grave. Convicted felons are not allowed to possess guns and sawed-off shotguns are illegal.
A Marine colonel wrote a letter to the judge to vouch for Rivera, saying Rivera won a Bronze Star in 2004 for helping to evacuate more than 100 people while under fire in Iraq.
Should this case go to trial, Rivera would not be a flight risk, Castillo said.
"His character, his integrity, his entire background tells this court that he will answer the call of the court," Castillo said. "He will be here."