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Rivers v. State

Supreme Court of Delaware

March 20, 2018

CHRISTOPHER RIVERS, Defendant Below, Appellant,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee.

          Submitted: January 10, 2018

          Upon appeal from the Superior Court.

         Court Below: Superior Court of the State of Delaware ID. No. 1409001584 (N)

          John A. Barber, Esquire, (Argued), Wilmington, Delaware and Brain J. Chapman, Esquire, Newark, Delaware, for Appellant.

          Maria T. Knoll, Esquire, (Argued), Wilmington, Delaware, for Appellee.

          Before VAUGHN, SEITZ, and TRAYNOR, Justices.

          VAUGHN, Justice:

         The Appellant, Christopher Rivers, was convicted at a jury trial of two counts of Murder in the First Degree, two Counts of Possession of a Firearm During the Commission of a Felony, Conspiracy in the First Degree, and Criminal Solicitation in the First Degree. He sets forth two claims on appeal. First, he claims that the trial court's denial of his motion for a change of venue from New Castle County to either Kent or Sussex County prevented him from receiving a fair and impartial jury trial because of highly inflammatory and sensationalized media coverage and the New Castle County public's reaction to it. Second, he claims the trial court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence co-defendants' statements made after the murders were committed pursuant to the co-conspirator hearsay exception under Delaware Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(E). We find no merit to either claim and affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         At approximately 1:28 a.m. on September 22, 2013, New Castle County police officers responded to a reported shooting at 84 Paladin Drive, Wilmington, Delaware. They found that Joseph Connell and his wife, Olga, who had only recently been married, had been shot and killed in the front yard of their house. After an extensive investigation, the police arrested Rivers on September 3, 2014 and charged him with the murders.

          Rivers and Joseph Connell had been business partners in C&S Automotive Repair. Through their investigation, the police determined that Rivers' motive was to obtain the benefit of life insurance proceeds on Joseph Connell's life. In October, 2012, Rivers and Connell obtained a mortgage from Susquehanna Bank in connection with their business. The mortgage amount was a little less than $1, 000, 000. As part of the transaction, they were required to purchase life insurance on both of their lives in the amount of $977, 500 each to pay off the mortgage if one of them were to die. The death of both Connells would result in Rivers owning the business free and clear of the Susquehanna mortgage.

         The police investigation revealed that Rivers had agreed to pay Joshua Bey $60, 000 in exchange for Bey arranging to have the murders carried out. Bey, in turn, agreed with Dominque Benson and Aaron Thompson that Benson and Thompson would commit the murders.

         The $60, 000 was not paid prior to the murders. Rivers gave Bey a $5, 000 down payment. After the murders, Rivers gave another $5, 000 to Bey, which Bey gave to Thompson. Later Rivers gave $2, 500 to Bey which Bey gave to Benson. Later he gave $1, 500 to Bey, which Bey also gave to Benson.

         The murders generated media coverage. In his opening brief, Rivers has included a list of 49 television, radio, print or internet items of media coverage. He claims that the media coverage was highly inflammatory and sensationalized. Articles following Rivers' arrest discuss the possible murder-for-hire scheme in which Rivers was alleged to have engaged a middle man to hire one or more people to kill the Connells. The murders became known as the Paladin Club killings. After a proof positive hearing in December 2014, The News ...


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