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The Journal Gazette

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Saturday, May 18, 2019 1:00 am

Meijer clerk's killer gets 65 years

25-year-old victim's sister calls defendant 'a monster'

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

Jacob Walerko was a doting brother who loved his family, his sister said Friday.

He took her to the mall and for drives, just to hang out.

“He was such a loving, kind person,” Mallory Walerko told the judge who minutes later would order the man who killed Jacob to prison.

Jacob was shot to death Nov. 23, 2017 – Thanksgiving Day – as he worked behind the counter at the Meijer gas station on Lima Road. Victor Rivera used a sawed-off shotgun to kill the 25-year-old before jumping over the counter to steal a carton of cigarettes worth about $70 and then fleeing the store.

Customers including a little boy witnessed the killing, and the crime was captured by a surveillance camera. Police arrested Rivera the next day, after several people including his mother identified him as the man in photos investigators sent to media outlets.

Rivera, 23, pleaded guilty in March to felony murder – one committed in the act of another felony, such as robbery – and was sentenced Friday to 65 years behind bars.

“What you are, Victor, is a monster,” Mallory said as Rivera sat a few feet away, nodding slightly.

Jacob enjoyed being outdoors, camping and hunting, according to an obituary. His father, Mark Walerko, said his son had decided to pursue a career in law enforcement and was working about 60 to 70 hours per week between two jobs when he was killed.

“I know for a fact that he would have given Mr. Rivera the last dollar out of his pocket,” Mark said. “We, as a family, have a life sentence that will never go away. Time is a healer, but it's going to take quite some time.”

A sentencing memorandum filed Thursday in Allen Superior Court describes Rivera's life as a nightmarish mix of neglect, abandonment, abuse and mental health problems. He was beaten by relatives and left alone by his parents, the document said.

Angela Grande, case manager for the Allen County public defender's office, wrote the experiences left him with diagnoses including bipolar disorder and intermittent explosive disorder, an impulse-control problem characterized by a failure to resist aggressive behavior.

In the months leading to the murder, according to the memorandum, Rivera “was sleeping on the floors of abandoned trailers and hustling to survive.”

He apologized in a statement read by defense attorney Gregory Ridenour.

“I destroyed everything I've ever loved and cared about,” Ridenour read. “I didn't mean to destroy this man's life and his family. I take full responsibility for my actions. I still feel like this is a bad dream, but it's not. I am truly sorry for everything.”

mleblanc@jg.net