More than 20 years after 37-year-old Milton Lee was found dead in a pool of blood at Cortez City Park, a man has confessed in his slaying, according to an affidavit.
Sergio Tito Rivera, 38, admitted to Phoenix police officers on Dec. 11, 2016, that he killed Lee, according to a Dec. 12 affidavit for an arrest warrant filed in Montezuma District Court. Rivera was 17 years old at the time of the slaying.
Cortez police officers found Lee, a Native American, northwest of the Colorado Welcome Center about 8:30 a.m. Sept. 26, 1996, according to the arrest affidavit, written by Cortez Police Detective Gary Stevens.
Lee was lying face-down with deep wounds to his throat, according to the affidavit.
Montezuma District Attorney Will Furse said Thursday that charges against Rivera were filed Jan. 6 for first-degree murder as a bias-motivated crime. Rivera has been charged as an adult, even though he was a juvenile at the time of the crime.
He was extradited from Arizona to the Montezuma County Jail on Dec. 11, said Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Vici Pierce. It’s unclear where he was living.
Rivera told Phoenix Police Officer Christian Aguilar he slashed Lee’s throat twice and threw the murder weapon, a black-handled knife, into a friend’s backyard several days later, the affidavit states.
Rivera told Aguilar he chose to confront Lee because Lee appeared to be Native American, according to the affidavit. Rivera told the officer he was upset about an argument he had with friends, the affidavit says.
Rivera said he grabbed Lee by the side of his coat and flung him to the ground. He placed his knee in Lee’s back, grabbed him by the hair, pulled his head back and slashed his throat, he told Aguilar in the affidavit.
A doctor determined Lee had a severed artery, lacerated larynx and damage to his spinal column as a result of apparent knife wounds, according to the affidavit. The doctor also said Lee had been struck at the top of the head, which might have knocked him unconscious before the knife wounds.
Cortez Police Chief Roy Lane, who was head of the department at the time of Lee’s death, said Friday it’s a relief for the department to see the crime solved.
“I’m glad, simply because I know (Lee’s) family for years and years wanted some closure,” Lane said. “Now they’ll be able to do that. As far as his relatives are concerned, I’m happy for them.”
Lane remembered that the slayng was brutal.
“It’s one of those things that you never forgot,” he said.
Rivera was listed as a suspect in Lee’s killing in 1996, but was not arrested because of a lack of evidence, the affidavit says. Rivera’s confession matched details of Lee’s killing, police said.
It’s unclear in the affidavit why Rivera approached Phoenix police to confess. Aguilar and Phoenix Police Sgt. Stephen Roberts were not available for comment Friday.
Rivera remained in the county jail as of March 15, according to a report from the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office.
His next court appearance is scheduled for 3 p.m. April 20 in Montezuma District Court.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for June, Furse said.
firstname.lastname@example.orgJournal Reporter Stephanie Alderton contributed to this story.