Attorney for man accused in Osceola mother’s murder says investigators ‘don’t have the evidence’

Father, son charged in Nicole Montalvo’s slaying

A man arrested in connection with the death of a St. Cloud mother is asking to have his bond lowered.

ORLANDO, Fla. – One of the suspect’s in an Osceola County mother’s slaying is still in jail with a $350,000 bail. On Friday, Angel River’s attorney filed a motion to appeal his client’s bond saying it’s unreasonably high.

Attorney Frank Bankowitz says the judge set Rivera’s bond high to purposely keep him in jail because he believes prosecutors and Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson rushed to arrest him for his daughter-in-law’s murder.

Investigators said they found the remains of 33-year-old Nicole Montalvo in late October near the home her estranged husband shared with his family.

Rivera was first arrested on Oct. 29 on a murder charge in connection with Montalvo’s death. However, on Dec. 5 a judge ruled Rivera could be released from jail on that charge because the state failed to officially file the first-degree murder charge within 33 days of his arrest.

On the same day, new charges were filed against Rivera including a felony charge of abusing a dead body and failure to report a death. During his first appearance on those new charges, Judge Wayne Wooten set Rivera’s bail at $350,000, which is what his attorney is appealed Friday.

“Somebody is trying to keep him in jail. Judge Morgan couldn’t on the murder charge by law and since Judge Wooten has discretion quote-unquote, he set an unreasonable bond," Bankowitz said.

Bankowtiz said the normal bail amount for a felony charge of abuse of a dead body is anywhere between $2,500-$5,000 and $500 for the misdemeanor charge of failure to report a death. Instead, he said the judge set his bail at $350,000.

“A normal person in Osceola County is not going to make a $350,000 bond," the attorney said.

According to appeal Bankowitz filled, “In an obvious effort to assist the state in keeping the petitioner in jail, Judge Wooten set bond on the second-degree felony at $250,000 and on the first-degree misdemeanor at $100,000.”

Bankowitz said he believes the judge set the bond high to keep Rivera in jail because the state attorney’s office and Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson don’t have the evidence to hold him for the murder charge.

“This is a substitute for the murder case,” Bankowitz said. “I think (the judge) is doing the State Attorney’s work, keeping somebody in jail. The State Attorney can’t because of the Sheriff’s Department’s rush to judgement and arrest as a result of that.”

Bankowitz believes, as of right now, the evidence is not there, not only for the murder charge but even for the two new charges.

According to unsealed court documents, witnesses saw Angel Rivera and his son, Christopher Otero-Rivera, using an excavator rented by Angel Rivera at the back of their St. Cloud property not far from where detectives say parts of Montalvo’s body was found.

Bankowitz feels even that isn’t enough evidence to keep his client in jail.

“They definitely rushed with the charges, I mean they could have filed some minimal charges and he could have been on bond with certain restrictions, but for some reason, they ran out and filed the murder charge and they don’t have the evidence to establish it at this point.”

Bankowitz filed the appeal known as a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the 5th District Court of Appeals on late Friday afternoon. According to the court of appeals website, “The bulk of trial court decisions that are appealed are never heard by the Supreme Court. Rather, they are reviewed by three-judge panels of the district courts of appeal.”

Bankowitz said the process is usually expedited, and if the appellate court agrees, Rivera could be out of jail as early as next week.

“I met with him this morning. He just wants out,” Bankowitz said.