OAKLAND — An Alameda County judge ruled that a San Jose transgender rights activist was sane when she murdered three family members inside their home in 2016, a decision that will result in her being sentenced to life in prison.
Dana Rivers, 67, was convicted last November of murdering Charlotte Reed, 56, her wife Patricia Wright, 57, and Wright’s 19-year-old son, Benny Toto Diambu-Wright, in a frenzied triple-shooting and stabbing. Earlier this week, Judge Scott Patton rejected Rivers’ attorney’s contention that she was legally insane at the time of the murders.
“The facts of this case indicate planning, sophistication and a systematic effort to cover up the crime,” Patton said in his ruling, the news site Berkeley Scanner reported.
Since Rivers’ guilt had been established, the insanity phase of her trial required prosecutors to establish that she either understood the nature of her act, or that the murders were wrong. During the guilt phase, Deputy District Attorney Abigail Mulvihill argued that not only had Rivers planned the murders for months, but that she attempted to torch the couples’ Dunbar Avenue house in order to cover up the crime.
The fire, started in the couple’s garage, was only doused because an officer responded to a 911 caller who reported seeing Diambu-Wright stagger out of the home and fall in the middle of the street. The officer arrived just in time to watch Rivers, soaked in blood, attempting to leave the area.
Before her arrest, Rivers was best known as a schoolteacher who became an international news story when she came out as transgender to her students in a high school in Antelope, California. She was subsequently fired for sharing details of her transition, then sued the district and received $150,000 in a settlement. In the aftermath, she became an activist for transgender rights, and ultimately moved to the Bay Area to restart her life as an educator.
During trial, prosecutors argued that the murders were motivated by a dispute involving an all-female biker gang called the Deviants MC, which the defense argued wasn’t a gang at all. Reed was briefly a member of the now-defunct Deviants, but continued to be friends with Rivers after leaving the club. On the night of the murders, Rivers was supposed to spend the night, but attacked the couple as they slept in their bed, stabbing them dozens of times and shooting them, before shooting their son in the heart.