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KILLING WAS ASSISTED SUICIDE, DEFENDANT SAYS

April 22, 2002 – The Fortuna man who was arrested Friday and charged with murdering his common-law wife claimed Monday in court that he shot her in the head because she asked him to help her commit suicide.
Raphael "Nolo" Rivera, 36, was arrested Friday and charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of Ianthe Thomas, 51, his live-in girlfriend.
Rivera is charged with shooting her on Jan. 18 and burying her body in the yard of their Fortuna home, according to court papers.
Rivera led investigators to the grave, and the body was exhumed Friday, according to Detective Roselyn Bedminster.
Investigators are in possession of a suicide note and journal entries by Thomas that indicate she was suffering from depression at the time of her death, Rivera's defense attorney, Jesse Bethel, said in court on Monday. Rivera has said that Thomas had swallowed about 35 prescription painkillers, but that he had to shoot her when the pills did not kill her.
"I agree that what he did is against the law, but it's not first-degree murder," Bethel said in court. Conviction of first-degree murder carries a penalty of life in prison; the maximum penalty for assisted suicide is five years, he noted.
Territorial Court Judge Ishmael Meyers ruled that the charge against Rivera would remain first-degree murder and set bail Monday at $300,000. Rivera, a Dockside Bookshop employee, remained in custody Monday.
Evidence about the motive for shooting Thomas could come out as the case moves toward trial, Meyers said. An autopsy is expected to be completed by Tuesday.
"If this was an assisted suicide, why would he bury the body and not report it?" Meyers asked. "I find this case is murder."
Bedminster testified that Thomas, who had been a columnist for The Daily News in the 1980s, had been missing since January. When a concerned acquaintance of Thomas's asked Rivera where she was, Rivera replied that she had gone to Puerto Rico in January and that two days later he had gotten a telephone call saying that she had committed suicide there.
The concerned acquaintance notified police when Rivera could not say which hospital Thomas had been to, which doctor had treated her or which funeral home had arranged for her cremation, Bedminster said.
When detectives questioned Rivera, he told them he had shot Thomas at her request, turned over the handgun he said he had used, and showed them where he had buried her body, Bedminster said.
Assistant Attorney General John Wilks said the evidence points to first-degree murder. "We have a dead body and an individual who admits to causing that death. What more could prove murder?" he asked.
Rivera is scheduled to return to court on May 2 to enter a plea.

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