Juan Rivera will spend the rest of his life in state prison for the murder of 6-year-old Jadianna Larsen, the kindergartner he sexually assaulted and bludgeoned to death in May 2015 before setting her body ablaze off of a rural road two hours north of Sacramento.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White said Monday that the life sentence Rivera agreed to months ago spared him the death chamber but little else.
“”You will never be paroled,” White told Rivera, 28, from the bench. “You will be in prison for the rest of your life.”
Rivera was the boyfriend of Jadianna’s mother, Tanecia Clark. Clark had asked Rivera to take care of Jadianna at Clark’s south Sacramento apartment while Clark sought mental health care. In the late hours of May 28, 2015, emergency dispatchers received a call from Rivera that Jadianna was missing. Rivera said the girl slipped out of the apartment while he battled an hours-long attack of seizures. Rivera came to only to find her gone, he told authorities.
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But there were no seizures - only the violence and abuse that ended a too-short life already filled with both. Rivera killed Jadianna with a blunt-force instrument, striking her as many as four times, medical examiners determined, murdering the child while performing a lewd act on her. Rivera then enlisted his mother, Lisa Burton, to help cover up the crime.
She did, supplying a Ford Explorer swiped from her boyfriend for Rivera’s getaway to dispose of Jadianna’s body. He drove two hours north on Interstate 5 to rural Glenn County, then returned to Sacramento. Farmworkers called in a report of a grass fire beside a county road, while south in Sacramento, a massive search was under way to find the missing girl, Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Chris Ore recounted at the hearing.
“Hundreds of people were searching for her - by air, on foot, in canals. Everyone wanted to bring her home alive,” Ore said.
Her death and the grisly find 90 miles away shook schoolchildren in urban Sacramento and firefighters and farmworkers in remote Glenn County, Ore said. A memorial still stands in the tiny community where Jadianna was found.
“It affected people beyond this family. It affected this community. Firefighters came to put out a grass fire and came upon a burning girl,” Ore told White at the afternoon hearing. “An entire class of children had to learn that evil exists in this world.”
Rivera was quickly arrested in Jadianna’s death; his mother, Burton, was held as an accessory in a case that exposed the abuse and neglect that the Sacramento girl endured almost from birth. Sacramento Child Protective Services records showed contacts with child welfare workers from the time Jadianna was released from a hospital’s neo-natal unit to the month before she was murdered.
A wrongful death suit filed on behalf of Jadianna’s mother now wending its way through the Sacramento courts alleges “widespread failures” by child welfare workers, housing managers and health providers led to Jadianna’s killing.
Burton spent nearly two years in Sacramento County custody awaiting trial before she was freed on her own recognizance in March 2017. Burton died earlier this year.
A small clutch of family and friends appeared for the afternoon hearing. They embraced, thanked the prosecutors and investigators who worked to solve Jadianna’s murder and mulled Rivera’s fate.
“The sentence they imposed is between him and God,” Jadianna’s grandmother, Tanya Burchard, said outside the courtroom. “Life without parole is still a death penalty within itself. God’s got him. I prayed upon it. His will be done, not mine.”