WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees today expressed its profound disappointment regarding a plea deal that will allow one of two inmates charged with killing a correctional officer in 2008 to escape the death penalty.
The case involves Jose Rivera, a 22-year-old correctional officer and Navy veteran, who was stabbed to death while working at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater in California. Two inmates were charged in the murder: James Ninete Leon Guerrero and Joseph Cabrera Sablan.
Leon Guerrero agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence, under a plea bargain approved by Attorney General Eric Holder and made public by the Justice Department on March 7. Sablan will be tried and could face the death sentence if convicted.
“Jose Rivera was simply doing his job as a civil service employee when his life came to a violent and tragic end. On behalf of Jose and all the other federal employees who have lost their lives in the line of service, we must ensure that justice is done,” AFGE National President J. David Cox Sr. said.
AFGE Council of Prison Locals (CPL) President Eric Young called the plea bargain unfortunate, but said the council will continue to stand united beside the Rivera family and the larger family of correctional officers and staff who work at the Atwater facility.
“Jose’s family has waited many years to see that justice is done and his killers are held accountable. Unfortunately one of those killers has escaped the ultimate punishment,” Young said. “I hope and pray that the Rivera family eventually will be able to find the peace that they desperately deserve.”
According to various accounts, Leon Guerrero and Sablan chased and tackled Rivera, who was unarmed. Leon Guerrero held him down while Sablan stabbed him approximately 27 times with a 9-inch-long, ice pick-shaped shank.
“Regardless of who did the stabbing, both men are responsible for taking Jose’s life and both should be prosecuted,” CPL Western Regional Vice President Michael Meserve said. “That’s not going to happen now, and it’s a bitter pill for the family to swallow.”
Meserve added, “Leon Guerrero pleading guilty in exchange for a life sentence he was already serving is meaningless and an insult to Jose’s memory. Jose didn’t get the choice between life and death, and neither should his killers.”
Donald Martin, president of AFGE Local 1242 at Atwater, echoed Meserve’s sentiments.
“I believe that both men deserve the ultimate punishment our society can administer, and that is death. Granting a reprieve to one of Jose’s killers is an injustice to Jose and his family, and it lets down all law enforcement officers who place their lives in harm’s way every day to protect the innocent,” Martin said. “God bless Jose’s family, and may we never forget the sacrifice of their beloved son and our beloved brother.”