SCHENECTADY Brice Rivenburgh, the Rotterdam man accused in the April killings of his ex-girlfriend and her mother, admitted to the crimes in court Tuesday morning.
In return for his guilty pleas, Rivenburgh is to be sentenced in October to a minimum of 35 years to life in state prison. Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago also will have the option of sentencing Rivenburgh to up to 45 years to life.
Rivenburgh, 29, admitted to the crimes in a courtroom where gallery benches were filled with family and friends of 22-year-old Jessica McCormack and her mother, 52-year-old Tammy McCormack.
Rivenburgh pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder, answering a nearly inaudible “yes” to questions from Drago asking him if he killed each of the women. He admitted to killing both April 10 at the McCormacks’ 1142 Inner Drive home.
As he pleaded guilty, quiet sobs could be heard from members of and those with the McCormack family.
Rivenburgh, of 2501 Oaklawn Ave., is to be sentenced Oct. 22. At that time, members of the McCormack family are expected to give statements on behalf of the victims, family member Nancy McCormack said later Tuesday. Nancy McCormack was the sister-in-law of Tammy and aunt of Jessica.
Nancy McCormack was among the family and friends in court to witness the guilty pleas.
“It was tough,” McCormack said, “tougher than I thought.”
She also praised the police for their investigation that led to Tuesday’s guilty pleas.
“They did an amazing job,” McCormack said, “and now I hope that Tammy and Jessica can rest in peace.”
Tuesday’s plea deal gives Drago the option of sentencing Rivenburgh in each death to consecutive sentences of as little as 17.5 to life or as much as 22.5 to life, amounting to a total of 35 to 45 years to life.
Prosecutor Philip Mueller noted in court that the plea deal was reached after extensive discussions. It also took place on the eve of what was to be a pre-trial hearing in the case.
Afterward, Mueller, too, praised the Rotterdam Police Department, saying they “did a tremendous job on a case that was essentially a circumstantial case.”
He noted one officer’s actions specifically, investigating a seemingly minor incident that morning, providing investigators with information about Rivenburgh’s movements hours before the murders were discovered. Mueller also credited multiple Rotterdam residents who came forward with information.
Defense attorney Sven Paul later confirmed that he intended to argue for the minimum allowed under the plea, 35 years to life. But he declined to comment further.
Mueller confirmed that his starting point will be arguing for the maximum, 45 years to life. He added that he wanted to see what Rivenburgh says to the Probation Department in a pre-sentencing report to the judge.
“I do hope that when he’s interviewed by the Probation Department that he will find it in himself and find the courage to man up and tell the whole truth about this,” Mueller said, “and not some minimized, watered-down version.”
Tuesday’s plea came after pre-trial filings in the case indicated that prosecutors had extensive evidence against Rivenburgh in the killings.
Rivenburgh was indicted weeks after the killings on 26 separate counts, the top counts being first-degree murder, rape, burglary and robbery. The first-degree rape count accused Rivenburgh of raping Jessica McCormack before killing her.
Both women died of asphyxiation.
Rivenburgh was also accused of re-entering the Inner Drive home twice after the killings, the final time in an attempt to set a fire to destroy the crime scene, authorities said. He is also accused of attempts to cover up his involvement in the crime.
As to why it happened, Mueller could only speculate based on the evidence. Jessica McCormack and Rivenburgh had had an on-again, off-again relationship, one of which her mother did not approve, he noted. At the time of the killings, it was off.
“I think that Brice was something of a loner and his connection with Jessica was perhaps his most significant connection to the real word of working, functioning, healthy people,” Mueller said.
Jessica McCormack was a woman who loved swimming and music and was working toward a career in dental hygiene. Her mother has been described as someone who was kind to everyone, someone with an exceptional work ethic who was great with children.
Rivenburgh had faced up to life in prison without parole if convicted after trial of the top murder counts. The deal that Rivenburgh accepted, Mueller said, will result in a lengthy sentence and certainty in the outcome.
“This is a very stiff plea offer,” Mueller said. “I think it is a reasonable one, but it’s not generous.”