On March 22, 1996, Michael Nicholson and 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 Alfred Rivera had been with them that day, and that he had killed Nicholson and Smith. Rivera was indicted for two counts of first-degree murder on October 7, 1996.
Rivera was tried in October, 1997. The prosecution based its 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 actual murderer. According to the inmate, Bryant had 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. This testimony was presented at Rivera’s second trial, and on November 22, 1999, he was acquitted of all charges and released from prison.
- Alexandra Gross