Former border patrol agent sentenced to 30 years for hatchet attack

VISTA (CNS) – A former Border Patrol agent who botched a plan to kill his estranged wife and mistakenly attacked two of her roommates with a hatchet was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years to life in prison.

Gamalier Reyes Rivera, 34, was convicted last month of premeditated attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, assault with a deadly weapon and burglary. Jurors acquitted him of torture.

Judge Runston Maino did the sentencing in Vista.

“Mr. Rivera, you just left a trail of devastation behind you,” he said.

During the trial, Deputy District Attorney George Loyd said Rivera — who had experience with a Border Patrol SWAT-like unit — made a “to-do list” in 2005 detailing how to kill his wife and get away with it.

Four years later, in July 2009, Rivera put the plan into motion by breaking into an Escondido home with the intent to kill Erika Von der Heyde, he said.

Rivera and Von der Heyde were married in 2002, Loyd said. Rivera joined the Border Patrol in 2003, and the couple had a daughter, the prosecutor said.

In 2005, the Riveras filed for divorce but reconciled and remarried in 2007, Loyd said. They filed for divorce again in 2009 and were living apart and dating other people when he tried to kill her, Loyd said.

Loyd said Rivera armed himself with two hatchets and took a cab from his home in Imperial Beach to the house in Escondido, where Von der Heyde had just moved in with her boyfriend, Jesus Vinas, and other roommates.

On July 9, 2009, Rivera broke into the Escondido home about 1 a.m., looking for his estranged wife and Vinas, but instead found Chris Anguiano and his girlfriend, Samantha Shaffer, who were sleeping in another bedroom. Rivera attacked Anguiano, wounding him with eight blows.

“You will pay for what you did,” Anguiano said at the sentencing. “May God be with you,” he said, adding “that's all you have left. You're nothing but a number.”

Anguiano suffered brain damage and was left blind. His girlfriend suffered deep cuts to her legs and lost the tip of one of her big toes, according to court testimony.

Loyd said there was proof that Rivera intended to kill both Von der Heyde and Vinas because the defendant first attacked a man when he went into the wrong bedroom.

Von der Heyde and Vinas were asleep in another bedroom and awoke to screams.

“He (Rivera ) hit Chris and he hit Samantha with a hatchet, and he did it on purpose,” Loyd said of the defendant.

Loyd said Rivera wasn't being honest when he testified that he went to the home only to scare his estranged wife.

Rivera's attorney, Bob Bernstein, conceded that his client was guilty of assault with a deadly weapon on Anguiano and but said there was no intent to harm Shaffer.

The defense attorney said there was “zero evidence” that Rivera had any animosity toward Von der Heyde's boyfriend or that he intended to kill him. In fact, when confronted by Vinas after attacking Anguiano and Shaffer, Rivera dropped a hatchet and fled before being arrested nearby, Bernstein told the jury.

Bernstein called the 2005 “to-do list” a “fantasy note” that Rivera never acted on.

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