'Generosity lived in his heart': Daughter reflects on father's life, killer's conviction (2024)

Miguel Rivera was a loving, caring and humble man — helping those in need get their lives back on track — but one of his last acts of generosity ended in his death.

Rivera, 64, was fatally shot on July 25, 2018, in the 23100 block of Alameda Avenue in Tornillo by a ranch hand, Eduardo Garza Santillana. Rivera was trying to help Garza fight his drug addiction, Marlene Rivera, Rivera's daughter, said.

'Generosity lived in his heart': Daughter reflects on father's life, killer's conviction (1)

"My dad was a very, very honorable man," Marlene Rivera said. "Very caring. A very, very generous man. He was all about his family. He loved his family. He was always there to help everyone he met. That was the amazing man he was."

Nearly six years after the fatal shooting, Rivera's family finally received justice April 4, after a jury convicted Garza of capital murder and sentenced him to life in prison. Garza was also sentenced to 40 years on one count of aggravated robbery. The sentences will be served concurrently.

While the Rivera family got justice for their father, nothing can ever take away the pain they suffer everyday without him. With Garza spending the rest of his life in prison, the healing process can start, a Rivera family member said.

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"My dad did get the justice that he deserved," Marlene Rivera said. "We got justice as well. There will really never be closure because my dad is no longer here. But I guess now we start the healing process again. With him (Garza) being convicted and sentenced, now we start the healing process again from scratch.

"It's never going to be easy. My dad was, well is, a big part of our family. It's very difficult. Unfortunately, we have to move on, but of course our father's memory is always with us. There's not a day that passes that we don't think of him."

Miguel Rivera's other ranch hand, Abelardo Moreno,was also shot by Garza. He survived his injuries.

El Paso District Attorney Bill Hicks hopes the guilty verdict will bring peace to the Rivera family.

"Convictions do not give the family closure, they give the family finality," Hicks said. "It's an opportunity now for the family to begin the healing process. The family gave their victim impact statements and it was an opportunity for this family to begin to move on with their lives. Now, the family is satisfied that justice had been served, but it doesn't bring back their loved one."

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Marlene Rivera and her family will make sure her father's legacy of caring and desire to help those in need will live on.

"I just want everyone to know who my father was and what type of person he was," Marlene Rivera said. "Everyone who knew my dad knew him as Mike. His name was Miguel, but everybody knew him as Mike. Everyone that knew him knew how caring and what a loving person he was. Generosity lived in his heart."

Generosity turns to tragedy

Miguel Rivera hired Garza as a ranch hand after learning Garza was struggling to find work and trying to get his life in order, Marlene Rivera said.

"He had hired Garza to be like his ranch hand to just help him out," Marlene Rivera said. "Mr. Garza was a troubled individual. He was into drugs and stuff. He gave Mr. Garza a place to live, paid all his utilities, bought him groceries. He also paid him hourly. He provided him with an income."

'Generosity lived in his heart': Daughter reflects on father's life, killer's conviction (2)

Miguel Rivera started noticing tools and other items were disappearing from his property.

"He found out that it was Garza that was taking the items," Marlene Rivera said. "My dad just got fed up with it and was just like 'I tried to help him. I'm done.' He had asked my brother to go over there. I believe it was about July 9th that my brother went over there and he fired Garza. My brother told him, 'my dad doesn't want you here anymore. Can you just please get your stuff and leave?'"

Garza left, but about two weeks later came back and shot Miguel Rivera and Moreno. The shooting happened as Garza was trying to burglarize Miguel Rivera's home, Hicks said.

"We couldn't believe it," Marlene Rivera said. "It's been very difficult for us. My dad was our pillar of strength. He loved his family — myself, my brother, my sister, his grandkids and his great grandkids that he didn't get to meet. It's been difficult. When my dad passed, it's like a piece of us went with him."

Family relives tragic day, gets to address murderer in court

Garza's trial began March 22 in the 409th District Court with Judge Sam Medrano presiding. The trial lasted more than a week, bring heartbreaking memories of their father and the tragic details of how the fatal shooting occurred.

"The trial was very difficult to listen to," Marlene Rivera said. "It was like reopening a wound. Just when we thought that we were kind of like accepting the fact that my dad had passed away, we had to relive that awful day again. Having to actually hear the testimonies of how everything happened was very, very traumatic.

"We try and forget what happened, but just hearing it and seeing that individual in court not having any kind of remorse for what he did was hard for us. He didn't feel bad. He had no remorse at all. Even when the sentence was read, he didn't show any kind of emotion at all."

'Generosity lived in his heart': Daughter reflects on father's life, killer's conviction (3)

Marlene Rivera and her family got to address Garza in court during their victim impact statements. Marlene Rivera focused her victim impact on her father and the devastating impact Garza left on her family when he senselessly killed her father.

"I read a victim impact statement on behalf of myself, my brother and my sister, and I looked him in the eyes," Marlene Rivera said. "I sat right in front of him in the witness stand. I read to him how we felt, how what he did affected us. Not once, not once did he look up at me. I directed everything to him. I looked straight at him and he didn't even pick up his head at all. He showed no remorse for what he did to my father and to my family."

It was difficult for Marlene Rivera to address Garza in court, but it was important for him to know what he put her family through, she said.

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"It was hard," Marlene Rivera said. "I was shaking. Of course, I had a lot of anger. You want to say and do things that you really can't because you're in a courtroom. It was hard and it was made harder by the simple fact that he showed no emotion, no remorse. That was the hardest thing."

In the end, justice was served and Marlene Rivera and her family are grateful for the state prosecutors and their team for the work they did to make sure Garza would spend the rest of his life in prison.

"I just want to thank the prosecution team and lead prosecutor Samantha Nelson," Marlene Rivera said. "She was just amazing the way that she defended our father since day one that she took on the case. We want to thank the victim's advocates, the witnesses and everybody who testified. We couldn't have gotten a guilty verdict without any of them. So I just wanted to say thank you."

Aaron Martinez may be reached at amartinez1@elpasotimes.com or on Twitter@AMartinezEPT.

'Generosity lived in his heart': Daughter reflects on father's life, killer's conviction (2024)


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