UPDATED: Murder, robbery charges filed in Fort Wayne Meijer clerk’s killing; victim ID’d; Allen County prosecutor discusses Rivera’s previous case

This image was taken of a suspect in the killing of a clerk at the Lima Road Meijer gas station on Thursday evening. Police say the hat worn by the man in the surveillance image is identical to one on the suspect's Facebook page, according to court documents. (Courtesy of Fort Wayne Police Department)
Rivera (Courtesy of the Allen County Sheriff's Department)

The suspect in the shooting death of a Meijer gas station clerk on Thanksgiving night has been formally charged in Allen Superior Court with two counts of murder and one court of robbery resulting in serious bodily injury, a Level 2 felony.

The Allen County Coroner’s Office has identified the victim as Jacob Walerko, 25.

Victor Rivera, 21, of the 5800 block of Kelso Lane, had an initial hearing Monday morning, according to electronic court records. He had been released from custody in April after serving six months of a 2½-year prison sentence related to the neglect of an infant who suffered a skull fracture.

According to Fort Wayne Police, in the most recent case Rivera was arrested without incident Friday in a north side trailer park off Washington Center Road after police had received tips from the public. He was initially charged in the robbery and shooting death Thursday night of Walerko, a clerk at the Meijer gas station on Lima Road. Walerko was pronounced dead inside the station, according to the coroner’s office.

According to a probable cause affidavit filed Monday in Allen Superior Court, Rivera allegedly was seen on video pulling out a sawed-off shotgun and shooting Walerko in the head. Rivera reportedly then jumped over the checkout counter, stole a carton of Newport cigarettes and fled across the Meijer parking lot.

A witness reported seeing Rivera yelling and making threats to the gas station workers about coming back and getting even because he did not get a job, the affidavit said. The witness reportedly said the man yelling had a tattoo on his face and positively identified Rivera from a photo array.

Several people also called in tips about the possible identity of the suspect, including one from a person who allegedly recognized Rivera from a Facebook account under the name Victor Esposito, the affidavit said. Pictures on the Facebook page showed Esposito wearing the same clothes as Rivera allegedly wore in the Meijer shooting, the affidavit said.

When Rivera was taken into custody Friday, and he allegedly had five packs of Newport cigarettes with him, the affidavit said.

When shown the Facebook pictures, he allegedly said they looked like his clothes, but said people can buy that hat anywhere, the affidavit said. He also said all of the tipsters were wrong in suggesting he may be the suspect in the crime.

When questioned by police, he reportedly told a detective he was in a mobile home with a friend all day Thursday, the affidavit said.

The friend said Rivera left in the afternoon and returned at 9 p.m. Thursday, at which time Rivera allegedly gave the friend three packs of Newport cigarettes, the affidavit said. The friend said Rivera also seemed very interested in watching news reports about the fatal shooting.

A woman said Rivera was at her house from 1-2 p.m. Thursday and left at 3 p.m. Thursday, the affidavit said. He reportedly returned at 9 p.m. and put five packs of Newport cigarettes on her bed and was acting very quiet. When a news report about the shooting came on, the woman remembered Rivera allegedly saying, ‘”Oh, man, I am in trouble,”‘ the affidavit said.

Walerko died of a gunshot to the head; his death is the 34th homicide in Allen County in 2017, according to the coroner’s office.

Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards, who wouldn’t comment on Rivera’s current case, answered questions about his release earlier this year in an unrelated case after serving six months on a 2½-year sentence.

“He’d already served his sentence,” Richards said.

Because he didn’t have bail and spent 266 days in jail, he had that time counted toward his sentence, which was handed down to him in late October 2016 after a jury trial. Also, the jury found him guilty of only the lesser felony charge – neglect of a dependent by placing him in a situation that endangers him, a Level 6 felony – and acquitted him of neglect of a dependent resulting in serious bodily injury, a Level 3 felony.

The lesser charge also allowed him to earn a day of jail credit for every day served under Indiana’s sentencing guidelines. The more serious Level 3 felony would have given him one day credit for every three days served.

“He served the max,” said Richards, who doesn’t see the Indiana legislature changing the day-for-a-day sentencing anytime soon.

His co-defendant, the infant’s mother, Jennifer L. Born, 34, of the 3600 block of Ferndale Drive, pleaded guilty to the same charges Rivera faced, and was sentenced Oct. 3 to serve three years in prison. She was released from jail on bond, so she didn’t have a large number of credit days. She’s expected to be released from the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis on Aug. 1, 2018, according to the Department of Correction.

In that case, Fort Wayne Police responded to a domestic disturbance at 1:35 p.m. Oct. 18, 2015, and found the 3-month-old infant suffering from a hematoma to the rear right side of his head. The infant was taken to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with subdural hemorrhages. A skull fracture also was noted, as were hemorrhages in both eyes, which indicated abusive head trauma. X-rays revealed a fracture of the left femur with early healing and a fracture of the left humerus, which also was healing, doctors testified during last month’s trial.