November 24, 2014

State Supreme Court overturns death sentence for convicted killer

South Carolina’s highest court has overturned the death sentence of a man convicted in the strangling death of an Anderson woman nearly seven years ago.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that Raymondeze Rivera should have been allowed to testify in his own defense during his trial— even if his own attorneys thought the testimony would hurt his case. Wednesday’s ruling overturned Rivera’s conviction and ordered that he stand trial again.

In 2010, Rivera was found guilty and sentenced to death for the 2006 strangling death of Kwana Burns. He testified that he was sent to Anderson to kill Burns and that he also killed another woman, Asha Wiley, two days earlier. He is still in prison serving a life sentence for Wiley’s death.

During his trial Rivera asked to testify, but his lawyers said no and the trial judge eventually agreed not to allow it after questioning Rivera on his own. It eventually took a jury 11 minutes to find Rivera guilty and he was sentenced to death. The Supreme Court said Rivera should have been allowed to testify and ordered a new trial.

“Although, as a practical matter, preventing (Rivera) from testifying may have been an advantageous strategic decision, it had no basis in the law,” Judge John Kittredge wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion. “The circumstances of this case are particularly disturbing, given that (Rivera) disagreed with counsel’s recommendation not to testify, unambiguously indicated to the trial court that he wished to take the stand, and vociferously objected to the trial court’s decision not to permit him to testify.”

Tenth Judicial Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams, whose office prosecuted the case, said in a statement, “(T)he Supreme Court’s decision today does not change the facts or evidence surrounding the case and I am confident that upon retrial, we will once again secure a conviction.”

It is not clear when or where a new trial will be scheduled.

Russ McKinney contributed to this report