Anaida Rivera
Anaida Rivera

One of four men who pleaded guilty Friday in York County Court to murdering a York City mother of three during a home-invasion robbery said the day detectives caught up with him for the slaying, he was armed with a .25-caliber handgun.

"My whole intention was to go kill somebody," Francisco Santos told the judge, but before that could happen he was arrested for the murder of 40-year-old Anaida Rivera.

Santos, 32, of York City, never said who he intended to kill, but chief deputy prosecutor David Sunday said he has an idea.

"He made statements that led us to believe his targets that day were his three co-defendants," Sunday said.

Of Rivera's four killers, Santos was the only one who knew her, and he admitted in court Friday he's the one who came up with the idea to burglarize Rivera's 250 Liberty Court home the night of Dec.

Smith
Smith
29, 2011.

"We didn't even know someone was going to be in there at the time," he said.

Santos said he did his best to make sure Rivera never saw his face, since she could recognize him, and that he remained upstairs with co-defendant Quinn Brown while Daniel Joseph Smith Jr. and Robert "Nino" Perez tied up the woman downstairs.

Two of Rivera's three young children were home at the time. They hid upstairs, terrified, as their mother was bound and choked. York City Police have said the children were forced to listen to their mother's screams.

An autopsy determined Rivera died of suffocation and strangulation.

Screams: "I heard Anaida screaming and I thought (Smith and Perez) were calming her down," he said, adding he later heard her moaning.

Santos pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison.

Smith, 27, of York City, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, robbery, burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary and was sentenced to 40 to 100 years in prison.

Perez, 25, of York City, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary and was sentenced to 35 to 70 years in prison.

Brown, 20, of York City, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in prison.

Santos
Santos

Prosecutors had been seeking the death penalty for Smith and Perez.

"I agree what I did was some real coward s--t," Santos said after being sentenced. "Everything I got coming to me, I deserve. I feel for the family."

What happened: "No one was supposed to get harmed," Smith said during his sentencing hearing.

"I was one of the two who detained the victim," he told the judge, and the one who put duct tape across Rivera's mouth.

"I suggested (she) be tied up," he continued. "I also choked her."

Police have said Smith and Perez took turns choking Rivera, and that Perez helped tie her up.

All four defendants apologized in court.

Smith said he's taken responsibility for his actions and said that, "somewhere down the line," he hopes Rivera's family can forgive him.

Perez
Perez

Perez said he feels "really bad" and wishes it would never have happened.

Brown seemed close to tears as he turned to face Rivera's family and said, "I know it don't fix nothing. I'm sorry."

Nightmares: During the hearings, Sunday read aloud a letter to the court from Rivera's now 9-year-old son.

"I still have nightmares about it every day," the boy wrote. "I hope the robbers stay in jail for a long, long time."

The boy's letter noted there was no reason for the men to rob or kill Rivera. He also wrote he's scared of being robbed again.

Evelio Rivera, the victim's brother, spoke on behalf of his family at each of the men's hearings, saying Anaida Rivera took care of her family.

"I love my sister very much and I miss her," Evelio Rivera said.

Brown
Brown
"She had three little kids."

Evelio Rivera said the men deserve what they get, and he hopes they rot in prison.

"(They) took away somebody special to us," he said.

Family disappointed: Evelio Rivera and his wife, Monalisa Rivera, said while they wanted all four men to go to prison for the rest of their lives, at least Anaida's children won't have to testify in court, after all they've been through.

"We're just glad it's done," Monalisa Rivera said. "It's never going to bring her back, but justice is justice. ... At least they are behind bars -- that's something."

The three children are doing well, she said.

"We're trying to get them to heal," and providing them with lots of counseling, she said.

Kids 'traumatized': Sunday said because guilty pleas generally mean no years-long appeals, the victim's children won't have to worry about the cases dragging out.

"The hands of time on this horribly tragic crime can never be reversed. Three children have been traumatized by the death of their mother," he said. "We structured a guilty plea that protects the community, punished the defendants and protects these young children from having to come into court to testify, thus exacerbating their trauma and suffering."

Sunday said the sentences of Smith, Perez and Santos are the "numerical equivalent" of life sentences.

In Pennsylvania, violent felons normally serve about 85 percent of their maximum sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

Earrings: Police said the men killed Rivera for $80, two sets of earrings and a few other items.

It's those distinctive earrings, along with a great deal of legwork, that helped York City detectives crack the case, police said.

One set of earrings had the name "Anaida" on them, and the other had the name of her young daughter. Both sets were pawned at a city pawn shop.

Detectives were able to use pawn-shop records to track down the killers, then convinced three of them to confess, police said.

-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at levans@yorkdispatch.com.