Wednesday, September 16, 1998

Mom testifies
against man accused
of killing her son

She says he gagged the
child at least five times
before they had sex

By Susan Kreifels


The mother of a child who died after he was gagged with a sock has changed her story by testifying against the man accused of killing the boy.

Gina Lynn Riviera yesterday said Mikael Malakha had gagged her son at least five times before his death on Oct. 21, 1991. Zachary, 3-1/2 and brain-damaged, cried a lot and the couple had developed a routine to quiet him, she said. They would play a tape with Malakha's voice, turn on the air conditioner, stick a rag or some gag in his mouth, and tie strips of material around his head, Riviera said.

She would check him occasionally while they had sex in another room of Malakha's Ala Moana apartment, and she didn't believe anything would happen to him.

On the day he died, Zachary cried for about two hours. She checked him twice and was shocked to find "he wasn't breathing, he was twisted on his side. He looked blue."

She called 911 and both she and Malakha tried to resuscitate the child.

Previously Riviera told investigators that Oct. 21 was the first time the child was gagged. She also said yesterday that she knew something was in the child's mouth after earlier denying it.

City Deputy Prosecutor Glenn Kim asked her why she hadn't told investigators the same thing in four or five interviews spread over more than a year.

"I wasn't thinking straight, I lost my son," Riviera said.

Both Riviera and Malakha were charged with second-degree murder. But Riviera, 31, pleaded guilty to reckless manslaughter in a 1996 plea agreement and agreed to testify against Malakha. She was sentenced last year to five years' probation with no jail time.

Malakha's defense attorney, Myles Breiner, said the two never intended to kill the child, that Malakha had no history of crime or violence. Breiner said the two "should have been treated the same" and both should have been charged with reckless manslaughter.

Breiner said Malakha had been in jail since 1994.

Riviera also admitted other lies: Malakha had not forced sex upon her as she stated earlier, nor did he force her and her baby into his apartment the afternoon Zachary died, as she wrote to the TV show "America's Most Wanted."

She said Malakha had cared for her and the baby and was upset that her then husband was beating her in front of the child. She said yesterday that the only time she helped gag the child was on Oct. 21, 1991, when she held his hands while Malakha tied strips of material around his head.

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