LAKE MARY, Fla. - Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has inserted herself into a high-profile murder investigation in Central Florida.
FOX 35 News on Friday obtained a letter that Moody sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis, alerting him to a dispute between the Osceola County Sheriff's Office and the State Attorney for Ninth Circuit Court concerning the investigation into the death of Nicole Montalvo.
Montalvo, 33, was reported missing in October, and her remains were later discovered on two different properties belonging to her in-laws, investigators say.
Montalvo's estranged husband, Christopher Otero-Rivera and his father, Angel Rivera, are accused of dismembering the St. Cloud mother's body and then renting an excavator to bury her. Rivera and Otero-Rivera were arrested by Osceola County deputies on first-degree murder charges, but they were never formally indicted for murder by the State Attorney’s Office.
Angel Rivera was released from jail earlier this week after posting bond on charges of abuse of a dead body and failure to report a death, but a judge has since revoked that bond. Otero-Rivera has remained in jail since his arrest on charges of violating probation and failing to report Montalvo’s death.
In Moody's letter to the governor, she states that a dispute between State Attorney Aramis Ayala and Osceola County Sheriff Russ Gibson over the case appears to be personal.
"The Sheriff expressed concerns about the lack of charging decision and indicated that there was disagreement between his personnel and State Attorney Ayala's personnel about the case," Moody writes.
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During a news conference on Friday, Ayala blasted Gibson and his agency's investigation into the brutal murder of Montalvo, saying the sheriff prematurely arrested Otero-Rivera and Rivera.
"I have personally met with him [Sheriff Gibson] and requested that he refrain from public comments that repeatedly misrepresent the truth about this case," she said. "He has to accept responsibility. It is my understanding, as we stand here today, the sheriff still does not know who killed Nicole Montalvo."
Ayala said the prosecution must be fact-based.
"My homicide team continues to work on the ground with the detectives, offering counsel and advice regarding the best way to move forward according to Florida law, Florida rules of criminal procedure, and the rules of evidence."
Ayala accused the sheriff of using this case to bolster his re-election campaign.
"It's been filled with falsehoods and self-fulfilling statements. I, on the other hand, don't have an upcoming election nor any reason for pandering for selfish gain at the expense of truth and justice."
Moody said the dispute between Sheriff Gibson and State Attorney Ayala is now public and appears acrimonious.
"Such acrimony is not conducive to the administration of fair and effective justice," she wrote.
Her letter states there are charges that Ayala could have filed but she did not act on those charges. The letter also says Ayala canceled a meeting on Friday with the state to discuss the Montalvo case.
Moody concludes, "In any event, the speedy trial timeline is running and I am concerned that the dispute and disagreement between the Sheriff and State Attorney, which now appears to be personal, could result in a miscarriage of justice."
READ THE FULL LETTER AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS ARTICLE
Sheriff Gibson released a statement regarding Moody's letter and Ayala's comments in which he writes that his goal from the beginning of the investigation has been to bring justice to Montalvo, her family and the citizens of Osceola County.
"After it became apparent that the State Attorney’s Office was not interested in pursuing homicide charges, my office began exploring ways to get a second opinion," Gibson wrote.
The sheriff said he reached out to State Representative Mike La Rosa to arrange a meeting with Attorney General Moody’s staff, meeting with them twice to discuss the case.
"I would like to personally thank Attorney General Moody and her staff for showing commitment to the pursuit of justice by taking the time to review this case. After watching the press conference by State Attorney Ayala this morning, I believe that justice can only be achieved in this case if it is given to the Office of Statewide Prosecution," Gibson wrote.
Meanwhile, the family of the victim wants action. Steven Montalvo, Nicole's brother, spoke publicly for the first time about the case on Friday.
"Think about the 8-year-old boy who no longer has a mother, the family who no longer has a sister, a daughter, a friend," he said. "Think about that before you decide to be quiet and protect whoever did this."