The Elizabeth man convicted earlier this year of killing his wife in the home they shared with their young child, discarding her body in an abandoned home 10 miles away, and repeatedly lying to investigators about what happened as they worked to solve the crime has been sentenced to 32 years in state prison, acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan announced Tuesday.
Abayuba Rivas, 43, was sentenced to 25 years for aggravated manslaughter, then seven additional years for endangering the welfare of a child, under the parameters set down Friday by state Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch. Rivas also must serve at least 85 percent of the 25-year term before the consecutive seven-year sentence begins, under the provisions of New Jersey’s No Early Release Act.
On Sunday, February 23, 2014, Rivas killed 32-year-old Karla Jose Villagra Garzon, then transported her body inside a suitcase and drove to a vacant residence on Southern Boulevard in Chatham Township, where he left her on a mattress in the basement, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Caroline Lawlor, who prosecuted the case.
Rivas reported Garzon missing the next morning, telling authorities at the time that she had went out the night before but never returned, Lawlor said. A citywide search for Garzon ensued, boosted by friends and family members who took to social media to urge citizens to help find her, as well as Rivas himself, who went on camera for media interviews to plead for assistance from the public before ultimately confessing to police that he killed her.
A joint investigation by the Union County Homicide Task Force, Elizabeth Police Department, and New Jersey State Police Missing Persons Unit led to Rivas being identified as a suspect in the case, and following his confession he was arrested and held on $2 million bail. With duct tape binding her hands and covering her eyes and mouth, Garzon’s body was recovered from the vacant home approximately three weeks after she had been reported missing; an autopsy conducted by the Union County Medical Examiner’s Office revealed her cause of death as asphyxiation, with blunt-force trauma contributing.
Also assisting in the investigation were the Union County Sheriff’s Office, Bergen County Sheriff’s Office, Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, Chatham Township Police Department, and Chatham Township Volunteer Fire Department.
Following a trial lasting more than a month and jury deliberations that continued for four days, Rivas in July was found not guilty of murder, but guilty of first-degree aggravated manslaughter, second-degree endangering the welfare of a child, second-degree desecration of human remains, two related weapons offenses, and three counts of hindering apprehension.
Several of Garzon’s loved ones read statements into the record Friday before Judge Kirsch issued his ruling. Rivas’s sentences on his remaining charges will run concurrently to his 32-year term.