A Fairfax County jury took 90 minutes to convict Wilber Rivera of the machete attack outside the Multiplex Cinemas in Merrifield on Jan. 3.
The jury sentenced Rivera to 23 years in prison for aggravated malicious wounding and five years for participation in a criminal street gang.
Officer Richard K. Bistline arrived at the parking lot of the Multiplex Cinemas in Merrifield around midnight on Jan. 3. Shawn Daniel Schroeder approached him holding his bloody left hand which was missing three fingers that had been severed by a MS-13 gang member's machete.
"He was awake and conscious. He was very excited, screaming, begging for help … trying to stay conscious," testified Bistline, of the McLean District Station, during the trial against Rivera, 19. "There was a lot of blood. I stayed with the victim the entire time."
Schroeder, then 24, was missing his pinkie, ring and middle fingers.
Officer Richard D. Shughart, the second officer on the scene, testified that Schroeder had a large gash to the left side of his head. He found Schroeder's fingers on the sidewalk in pools of blood; he found more of Schroeder's blood smeared against the glass of the movie theater where Schroeder banged on the glass, trying to get movie theater employees to help him.
"I was being stabbed every way. I tried to grab the machete; it gave me this lightning bolt in my hand, and [then] I didn't feel my hand," Schroeder said. "They kept fighting, still swinging the machete at me."
Rivera will be formally sentenced by Judge Jonathan C. Thacher in December.
<b>THE TRIAL AGAINST</b> Rivera, which last three days, began Monday, Aug. 15 in Fairfax County Circuit Court.
Rivera pleaded not guilty to aggravated malicious wounding and participation in a criminal street gang.
Schroeder, the victim, was the first witness to testify. Schroeder said the Jan. 3 attack spilled over from an incident a week or two before at the McDonalds in Tysons Corner Mall, where Rivera worked as a bus boy at the Rainforest Cafe.
In his opening statement, Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John Murphy identified Schroeder as a member of a rival gang, the reason Rivera confronted and attacked him.
"He pulled out a machete at Tysons Corner Mall," said Schroeder, who admitted that he was a member of the Rollin' 60s, a clique of the Crips. "Every time he would see me, he and his entourage in the mall would always ask me questions."
Schroeder was walking away from the theater with his baby and girlfriend after seeing a movie that had ended at approximately 11:15 p.m. on Jan. 3.
"As we were walking a blue Nissan Maxima slammed on the brakes," he said. Rivera, one of the passengers, screamed at Schroeder, "Don't you remember me from Tysons Corner Mall?" Schroeder testified.
The group then got out of the car and rushed after Schroeder.
As his girlfriend ran with their baby in the opposite direction, Schroeder said he first attempted to keep the group's attention on him. Then, he focused on protecting himself.
"I told him that he should settle it with his hands, but he couldn't do that," Schroeder said.
That's when Schroeder said he was first stabbed. He was stabbed multiple times.
"I thought, 'Either I play dead or I fight for my life,'" said Schroeder. "I held my breath as long as I could. I rolled my eyes to the back of my head."
Schroeder, who showed the jury two large scars on the top of his head, also suffered a fracture of the skull during the attack in addition to complete severing of the fingers, according to testimony from Dr. Joel E. Buzy, a surgical resident who helped treat him at Inova Fairfax Hospital that night.
Attempts to reattach Schroeder's fingers were unsuccessful, Buzy said.
<b>CO-DEFENDANT</b> Moris Villalobos, who pleaded guilty last week to aggravated malicious wounding for his role in the attack, testified on Monday. Rivera was present during the attack but had a pocket knife not a machete, said Villalobos.
Defense attorney David Bernhard argued during the trial that Rivera was not at the crime scene at all.
"We are not arguing that a crime didn't occur," Bernhard said during opening statements on Monday. "We are arguing the facts show that [Rivera] wasn't involved, that he wasn't there."
Sandra Reyes, Rivera's girlfriend, testified that Rivera was at her apartment in Springfield doing laundry with her on the night of Jan. 3. She said she had a baby 17 days ago, and Rivera is the baby's father.
Reyes told a different story when a Fairfax Police detective and FBI agent interviewed her at her Springfield home in February, according to testimony from Detective Christopher Flanagan. Reyes told the detective that she, Rivera and Rivera's mother left the Springfield apartment between 7-9 p.m., to go watch movies at Rivera's mother's house the night of the attack.
<b>AFTER FINDING RIVERA</b> guilty on both counts, the jury deliberated again to determine Rivera's sentence.
The jury had to sentence Rivera to 20 years to life in prison for the aggravated malicious wounding and from one to 10 years for participation in a criminal street gang.
"What is enough punishment in this case? Should it be revenge or should it be justice? I submit 20 years is more than enough, and more than 20 years gets into, I submit, the revenge phase," Bernhard said.
Murphy asked the jury to sentence Rivera to the full extent it could.
"An individual who is willing to do that to another human being, that's an individual who deserves to be behind bars. And that's not revenge, that's justice," Murphy said.
After 90 additional minutes of deliberation, the jury sentenced Rivera to 23 years for the aggravated malicious wounding and five additional years for participation in a criminal street gang.
"I think this man deserves whatever he gets," testified Schroeder.