Prosecutors move forward with death penalty plans in correctional officer stabbing

submitted photo of jose rivera
correctional officer death
submitted photo of jose rivera correctional officer death Merced Sun-Star

FRESNO -- Prosecutors filed a notice of intent in federal court Tuesday to seek the death penalty against two inmates accused of killing Correctional Officer Jose Rivera at U.S. Penitentiary Atwater last year.

Jose Cabrera Sablan, 40, and James Ninete Leon Guerrero, 42, face first-degree murder charges in the killing of Rivera. They were already serving life sentences at USP Atwater when the stabbing happened on June 20.

The case will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Duce Rice and Elana Landau, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. In March, Attorney General Eric Holder authorized prosecutors to seek the death penalty against the two inmates.

Rivera was a 22-year-old Navy veteran who served two tours in Iraq. He was killed while conducting a routine inmate count at the prison. Prosecutors said an FBI investigation found that Sablan stabbed Rivera, using an 8-inch, ice-pick-type weapon.

Rivera, who had worked at Atwater less than a year, attempted to escape, but was chased down by Guerrero, who held him while Sablan repeatedly stabbed him, prosecutors said.

The next court hearing in the case is scheduled for April 27.

The Fresno Bee contributed to this report.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.

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