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Alfred Rivera

Other North Carolina Exonerations
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On March 22, 1996, 20-year-old Michael Nicholson and 19-year-old James Smith, both drug dealers, were shot dead in Nicholson’s apartment in Forsyth County, North Carolina.

Several men had been at Nicholson’s house that day to collect money that he owed one of them.  Two of them, Milton Hauser and JaHen Marlin, told police that 25-year-old Alfred Rivera had been with them that day, and that he had killed Nicholson and Smith.

On October 7, 1996, a grand jury indicted Rivera on two counts of first-degree murder. 
 
Rivera went to trial in Forsyth County Superior Court in October, 1997.  The prosecutor, Forsyth Assistant District Attorney Rob Lang, was familiar with Rivera--he had tried, unsuccessfully, to convict Rivera of drug possession in 1995. Lang based his case on the testimony of Hauser, Marlin, and three teenagers who claimed to have seen Rivera enter Nicholson’s apartment shortly before the murders.

The teenagers were all granted lenience on unrelated charges in exchange for their testimony.  The defense argued that Rivera had not been at Nicholson’s apartment that day, and that he had been framed for the murder by the actual killer.

Rivera’s defense attorney attempted to introduce testimony from a prison inmate who claimed to have had a conversation with Antonio Bryant, who the defense claimed was the murderer.  According to the inmate, Bryant said he had “two dudes” who were going to blame Rivera for the murders.  However, the judge would not allow this testimony to be presented at trial.

On October 6, 1997, Rivera was found guilty and sentenced to death.
 
On April 9, 1999, the North Carolina Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Rivera because the trial judge had wrongly excluded testimony from the witness who claimed that Bryant spoke to him about a conspiracy to frame Rivera.

The court also found that the prosecution had made a closing argument that improperly disparaged Rivera's defense attorney.

At Rivera's second trial, the testimony about the conspiracy to frame him was presented. On November 22, 1999, Rivera was acquitted and released from prison.

In December 2000, Rivera and another man were arrested by Winston-Salem, North Carolina, police on drug charges. When Rivera appeared in Forsyth County Superior Court, Rob Lang was present. By that time, Lang was working as an assistant U.S. Attorney. When Rivera's defense attorney acknowledged that Rivera had two prior drug convictions, Lang then began manuevering to get Rivera charged with federal drug violations.

Ultimately, although Lang's superior ordered him to have no involvement in the case, Rivera was indicted on federal drug charges and the state drug charges were dismissed.

In 2001, Rivera was found guilty in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, North Carolina, of trafficking crack cocaine. Because of the prior drug convictions, Rivera was sentenced to life in prison. He subsequently appealed and argued he was target of a vindictive prosecution. His appeal was denied.

In 2019, Rivera was released on parole under the First Step Act.
 
- Alexandra Gross

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 9/6/2019
State:North Carolina
County:Forsyth
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1996
Convicted:1997
Exonerated:1999
Sentence:Death
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No