ELIZABETH, NJ — An Elizabeth man has been convicted of killing his wife in their home and dumping her body in an abandoned house 10 miles away, then repeatedly lying to investigators about what took place as they worked to solve the crime, according to acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan.
After jury deliberations taking place over the course of four days and a trial before state Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch that lasted more than a month, 43-year-old Abayuba Rivas 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.
According to Union County Assistant Prosecutor Caroline Lawlor, who prosecuted the case, on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, Rivas killed 32-year-old Karla Jose Villagra Garzon, then stuffed 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. Rivas then reported Garzon missing the next morning, telling authorities at the time that she had gone 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 and 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, and New Jersey State Police led to Rivas being identified as a suspect in the case and 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.
Authorities said Rivas had his bail revoked following the verdict Monday and was taken into custody pending a sentencing hearing scheduled to take place on Friday, Aug. 24.