Rigterink Guilty of Murders

He could get the death penalty for the 2003 slayings near Winter Haven.

By Jason Geary
The Ledger

BARTOW -- As jurors took their seats, the crowd inside the small courtroom Friday seemed to hold its breath.

Some struggled to hold back tears and sobs. Others sniffled quietly and held each other tight.

Standing up straight, Thomas Rigterink, 33, listened as the jury found him guilty in the brutal stabbing deaths of Allison Sousa and Jeremy Jarvis on Sept. 24, 2003.

The jury spent more than nine hours deliberating over two days before convicting Rigterink on two counts of first-degree murder.

The trial moves into the penalty phase Wednesday, when the same jury will listen to testimony and arguments about whether Rigterink should be executed or sentenced to life in prison.

Before being taken to a holding cell, Rigterink nodded at his parents, James and Nancy, sitting in the courtroom's front row.

The family and friends of Sousa and Jarvis fought hard to control their emotions. Circuit Judge J. Dale Durrance had previously warned everyone inside his packed courtroom that he wouldn't tolerate any outbursts.

Once outside, they let their feelings loose, hugging each other and crying openly.

"It's so hard to sit in there and control your emotions," said Lee Sweeney, Jarvis' mother. "You're dying inside," she said.

Sweeney said she traveled from Akron, Ohio, to sit through the trial, which she described as "torture" for every family involved.

Sweeney said her 24-year-old son was an easygoing and bright young man who was always wellbehaved.

Alice Diggett, Allison Sousa's mother, and other members of her family wore decorative butterfly pins throughout the trial to silently honor her 23-year-old daughter's memory.

Diggett has described Sousa as an outgoing person who wouldn't think twice about helping someone in trouble. She enjoyed writing poetry, cooking and taking care of her son, who is now 4.

Before his arrest, Rigterink -the adopted son of two Polk Community College professors -had once worked for a prestigious Miami Beach modeling agency. He was one semester away from a biology degree at Warner Southern College.

But prosecutors say Rigterink's life took a turn for the worse shortly before the killings. He was fired from his job and separated from his wife, who worked two jobs to bring in extra income. He also had a drug habit.

Prosecutors say Rigterink planned to rob Jarvis of drugs at the warehouse unit where Jarvis lived at County Road 542 and Jimmy Lee Road, near Winter Haven.

Investigators would later recover about five pounds of marijuana from Jarvis' home.

Shortly after 3 p.m. on the day of the killings, prosecutors said Rigterink attacked Jarvis with a knife at least 10 inches long, but Jarvis escaped to the nearby offices where Sousa worked as a secretary.

As Sousa attempted to call for help, Rigterink burst inside the office and continued his attack.

Jarvis was stabbed 22 times, and Sousa was stabbed six times. Jarvis and Sousa bled to death.

During the trial, a key piece of evidence was a roughly 40minute videotaped statement of Rigterink speaking to detectives on Oct. 16, 2003, the day of his arrest.

On the videotape, Rigterink talks about having "snap shot" memories of the knife attack.

He offers to draw a diagram of where events took place. He demonstrates for detectives his struggle with Jarvis -- even holding an imaginary knife and raising his hand over his head.

Rigterink said on the tape that he kept up a relatively normal life and had no problems sleeping after the killings.

"After the fact . . ., honest to God, I didn't feel bad," Rigterink said.

Defense lawyer Byron Hileman said the case consisted mostly of circumstantial evidence with the exception of this videotaped statement.

Rigterink took the witness stand and claimed he was pressured by detectives to confess. He testified that he arrived shortly after the killings and saw the culprits -- violent drug dealers -who threatened to harm his loved ones if he told anyone.

Throughout his more than nine hours on the witness stand, Rigterink repeatedly denied killing anyone.

Sousa's 33-year-old husband, Tim, said Rigterink deserves the death penalty, and his testimony only proves that he is a liar.

Sweeney said she has thought about what Rigterink's punishment should be since her son's death.

"I've left it in God's hands," she said.

Jason Geary can be reached at 863-533-9079.