The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

July 31, 2013

Family of murder victim fighting his killer’s parole

James Rivers was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison

By MARK TODD - mtodd@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

— Relatives of an Ashtabula man murdered in 1998 are seeking support in their bid to keep his killer behind bars.

James Rivers, 66, a former Ashtabula County resident, has a hearing before the Ohio Parole Board in September, the first since Rivers went to prison in 1999 for the beating death of David Paul Sturgill, 26, in October 1998.

Family and friends of Sturgill are mounting a campaign to keep Rivers in prison, Matt Wilson of Ashtabula said Tuesday. Wilson is Sturgill’s uncle and a former brother-in-law of Rivers.

Rivers sent what relatives perceived as a threat when — at his sentencing — he turned to the gallery and said “I’ll be back,” Wilson said.

“The family is very afraid about Jimmy getting out,” Wilson said.

Rivers was sentenced to serve 15 years to life in prison after entering a guilty plea. He is currently incarcerated at the Grafton Correctional Institution.

Sturgill was reported missing on Oct. 23, 1998, after he traveled to Erie, Pa., to meet Rivers, who just days earlier had been released from an Iowa prison after serving time on an arson charge. Sturgill’s body was found three days later in the area of Hammond Corners and Sweet roads.

At the time of his death, Sturgill was engaged to one of Rivers’ daughters, according to news reports at the time.

Prior to the murder investigation, Rivers made headlines when he claimed to possess incriminating audio tape of Jim Bakker, the television evangelist who was embroiled in a sex scandal. Scams were nothing new to Rivers, Wilson said.

“He hurt many people over the years,” he said. “I believe he was a good con man, but when he graduated to murder he stepped out of his league. (The crime) was purposely done by a man who had bounced David on his knee.”

The family is still devastated by Sturgill’s death, Wilson said. “Every single day someone (makes a reference about) David,” he said.

Dan Sturgill, the victim’s younger brother, agreed.

“Every day brings a constant reminder of the type of person David was,” he said Tuesday. “My brother has not been able to watch his daughter grow up, while (Rivers) is still alive.”

People who wish to express an opinion for or against Rivers’ bid for parole can contact the Ohio Parole Board three different ways. A e-mail form is available on the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction website, while letters may be mailed to the board at 770 W. Broad St., Columbus, 43222, or faxed at 1-614-752-0600.

Be sure to include Rivers’ inmate number, A378437, in all correspondence.