Proclaiming the name “Devil,” the killer acted swiftly, stabbing an unsuspecting 18-year-old musician in the jugular with a silver pocketknife, and then in the back. But instead of fleeing the Aug. 15, 2006, Huntington Beach hotel birthday party in a panic, the killer stood over Walter Rivas’ collapsed body and watched, satisfied, as blood sprayed profusely from his neck. When nearby horrified witnesses gasped, the 5-foot-tall killer voiced an opinion before walking away: “Fuck you. Get over it.”
Murder made Samantha Elizabeth Rothwell hungry. The 20-year-old jumped into her white Toyota Tundra, backed into another vehicle, sped off, entered the 405 freeway on the wrong side, corrected herself without police detection and fled north to Los Angeles at speeds that topped 80 mph. Rothwell’s destination wasn’t a hideout, but rather a McDonald’s. While Rivas underwent unsuccessful emergency surgery, Rothwell pulled into the drive-thru, ordered two double cheeseburgers (no onions), 10 McNuggets and a medium lemonade.
The next day, authorities found Rothwell in a Valencia apartment she maintained with a $4,000-per-month trust fund her dead father had established. The murder weapon, still bloody, lay inside a backpack in the kitchen. Unwashed bloody clothes sat on the washing machine. Rothwell–who had “Smile now, Cry later” tattooed on her back–was engrossed in an episode of Friends.
At the 2007 trial, veteran Orange County homicide prosecutor Sonia Balleste established the senselessness of the murder. Rothwell stabbed Rivas after he’d happily talked about visiting the ocean earlier that day and feeling the presence of God. Until that point, the party had been peaceful and relaxed, but—to the surprise of partygoers–Rivas’ words infuriated Rothwell, who’d smoked marijuana and consumed three beers and Vodka shots.
“Don’t talk about God because I am the devil,” she snapped. “Shut up, or I’ll stab you.”
Rothwell wasn’t an intimidating presence. Her threat must have seemed ridiculously hollow to Rivas, who didn’t know that 18 months earlier she’d stabbed another young man in the arm under similarly bizarre circumstances. Among Rivas’ final words were “Tell my mom I love her.”
Last Friday, deputies brought Rothwell into court for sentencing following her second-degree murder conviction. She sat seemingly comatose as Rivas’ family expressed the pain of their loss. Then Chris Hilger, her public defender, read a statement she’d written. She called her victim “beautiful” and her acts “insane.”
Superior Court Judge Daniel Barrett McNerney wasn’t swayed. “We see a lot of trauma in this court, and very rarely does it make sense,” said McNerney. “But this is one of the most senseless things that this court has ever seen. . . . Starting today, you’ll be starting a new phase of your life.”
For 10 seconds of freakish stupidity, Rothwell won a term of 16 years to life in a California prison.
(Wednesdays at OCWeekly.com discover the depths of human depravity in Orange County, California.)
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— R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly