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What you need to know for 01/23/2018

Murder, rape charged in Rotterdam deaths

Murder, rape charged in Rotterdam deaths

Brice Rivenburgh is indicted on 26counts including first-degree murder and sex crimes, in the deaths

Sometime late April 9 or early April 10, authorities say, Brice Rivenburgh entered the McCormack home at 1142 Inner Drive in Rotterdam.

Inside, he committed unspeakable acts, raping his onetime girlfriend, 22-year-old Jessica McCormack, then killing her and her mother, 52-year-old Tammy McCormack, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

Rivenburgh then, according to the indictment, set about trying to cover his tracks, attempting to burn the shirt he wore, as well as an identifying document, then finally the home itself.

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Related story, photos

April 11: Man held in connection with double homicide.

Rivenburgh also attempted to stage evidence inside the home to draw suspicion away from himself, and even sent text messages to Jessica McCormack’s phone, attempting to imply he believed she was still alive when he knew she was already dead.

With the help of an observant Rotterdam police officer, the public, and the McCormack family, Rivenburgh’s attempts to cover up a crime that shocked a neighborhood and town did not succeed, authorities said Tuesday.

“The cooperation we received from the public and from the state police, working closely with members of our department, was critical in getting to this point today,” Rotterdam Police Chief James Hamilton said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference announcing the indictment.

“So,” Hamilton continued, “thank you again and I’d like to personally thank the surviving members of the McCormack family for their cooperation and their patience throughout this investigation. They really assisted us tremendously, and we very much appreciate that.”

Tammy McCormack was a mother of three who has been described as someone who was kind to everyone. Jessica McCormack was a young woman who loved swimming and music and looked forward to a career in dental hygiene.

Rivenburgh now faces a total of 26 counts, including first-degree and second-degree murder, first-degree rape and felony counts of burglary and robbery. If convicted of the first-degree murder counts alone, Rivenburgh faces the possibility of life in prison without parole.

Preceding the killings, authorities now believe, something happened between Rivenburgh and Jessica McCormack. The two had what was described as an ongoing, on-again, off-again relationship. Family members have told The Daily Gazette they had been told by other family members that some in the family disapproved of the relationship, including Tammy McCormack.

“It is clear that they had a relationship,” Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said Tuesday, “and it has been described as on again and off again over the course of a couple years.”

“Something happened during the course of that relationship,” Carney added a short time later, “just prior to the deaths of Tammy and Jessica, which angered him.”

Carney declined to speculate, but he said it was not clear whether the family was aware of the full extent of the relationship.

Rivenburgh, 28, of 2501 Oaklawn Ave., is expected to appear Wednesday morning in Schenectady County Court for arraignment on the new charges. He has been held in the Schenectady County jail since his April 10 arrest.

Attorney Sven Paul, who is defending Rivenburgh, said Tuesday he expects to formally receive a copy of the indictment at the arraignment. He also expects his client to plead not guilty.

Rivenburgh had previously been charged only with a felony count of burglary while authorities continued to investigate the case.

With the unsealing of the indictment Tuesday, authorities gave new details, including a rough timeline of events, and identified key moments after the killings that preserved evidence against Rivenburgh and allowed the investigation to zero in on him and see past his alleged attempts at deception.

In all, authorities say, Rivenburgh entered the McCormack home three times late April 9 and early April 10, and did so without forcing entry.

The first entry came sometime before 2:30 a.m. April 10, the second between then and shortly after 6 a.m. and the last only minutes before a McCormack family member entered the home and police discovered the bodies.

It was during the first entry that authorities believe Rivenburgh killed the women. Carney declined to identify how police believe the two were killed, but said they were killed in a similar manner.

It was sometime after the second entry that police first crossed paths with Rivenburgh, not knowing the McCormacks already lay dead in their home. Neighbors on nearby Outer Drive spotted a man trying to burn items just after 6 a.m. Also spotting the items was Rotterdam Police Officer Stephen Dixon, whom Carney singled out for specific praise.

Dixon put out the small fire and collected the items, a shirt and a bank statement with Rivenburgh’s name still legible. Dixon then tracked Rivenburgh down outside his Oaklawn Avenue home. There Rivenburgh sat in his car, shirtless while Dixon spoke with him.

Authorities now believe Rivenburgh was trying to destroy the shirt he wore in committing the crimes, as well as an identifying document. Hours later, after the bodies were discovered on Inner Drive, Rivenburgh went to the top of the suspect list.

“I don’t think there is any question, in this type of investigation, that we would have looked very closely at him,” Carney said at the news conference, “but it was very important for focusing the investigation on him as a person of interest very early.”

With nothing pointing police to the McCormack home then, or to what Rivenburgh is now accused of doing, he was released. Shortly after 10 a.m., he was back at the McCormack home, this time, authorities said, to set fire to it. The location he chose to set ablaze was Jessica McCormack’s bedroom, but the fire didn’t get a chance to spread.

Brad McCormack, acting on a phone call from his mother’s employer, entered the home and saw enough to call police. Police discovered the fire, and the bodies. Firefighters quickly doused the blaze.

Without the discovery of the fire at that time, authorities fear the crime scene could have been destroyed, which they believe was Rivenburgh's intent in setting it. Carney said the fire was set only minutes before Brad McCormack entered the home.

Asked if Rivenburgh could have still been inside, Carney said it was “quite possible.”

“It is certainly the theory of the prosecution that the fire was set minutes before it was put out,” Carney said.

Authorities also didn’t say how they believe Rivenburgh entered the home, only saying there was no forced entry.

“Certainly he had been there in the past,” Carney said, “although not in the recent past.”

Throughout that night and early morning, Rivenburgh also stole items from the home and set up other false evidence, authorities said. On his first entry, when he is believed to have killed the women, Rivenburgh also allegedly stole a television set. On his second entry, he allegedly took food and one or more food storage containers.

Carney declined to say how investigators came to conclude when Rivenburgh took the items, only saying it was based on the testimony of witnesses and observations of Rivenburgh.

Rivenburgh is also accused of staging evidence at the scene to divert attention or suspicion from himself, Carney said, though he declined to offer further information.

Rivenburgh also allegedly sent two text messages to Jessica McCormack that morning, attempting to suggest he believed she was still alive. In one message, Rivenburgh allegedly asked if McCormack wanted to hang out with him later that day. In the other, he asked if she was still mad at him, according to Carney.

Regardless of Rivenburgh’s alleged attempts to divert attention from himself, police began to search for him. Shortly after 6 p.m. that evening, he was in custody.

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