Herbert pleads guilty in death of retired Pa. teacher Joseph DeVivo, avoids death penalty

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Victim’s body was dumped in creek bed off Mount Carmel Road

By Chris Sardelli

Two years after the body of a missing Pennsylvania man was found in a creek bed off Mount Carmel Road, a man with ties to Lancaster County pleaded guilty to the man’s murder Monday, April 7. 


Rico Herbert, 33, stood in a Pennsylvania courtroom and spoke to the family of 87-year-old Joseph DeVivo, who was a resident of Stroud Township, Pa., a World War II veteran, and a retired school teacher.

“Words can’t change what I've done or bring Mr. DeVivo back,” Herbert said about the man he fatally smothered during a burglary of DeVivo’s home in February 2012. 

DeVivo’s remains were discovered March 12, 2012, in a leaf-strewn ravine about two weeks after he went missing. The heavily wooded area is just past Pitman Crossroads and near the Mount Carmel campgrounds. 

“This has been sitting in my heart and stomach for two years. I haven’t had even one night’s sleep,” Herbert said. 

Moments before he was sentenced to 31 to 62 years in state prison by Monroe County President Judge Margherita Patti Worthington, Herbert again spoke to DeVivo’s family.

“My lawyers told me not to say anything (about the murder or where the body was), but it wasn’t right. I know I’ve hurt many people, and I’m very sorry for that. I hope you can find forgiveness in your hearts for me,” he said. 

Herbert was originally charged with murder, theft, stealing a motor vehicle, burglary and abusing a corpse, but he decided to plead guilty Monday solely to third-degree murder, stealing a motor vehicle and abusing a corpse in exchange for the dismissal of first-degree murder and other charges, according to the Pocono Record, a newspaper serving DeVivo’s community.

Herbert entered his pleas on what would have been the first day of jury selection for his trial. 

Since the prosecution was seeking the death penalty in this case, had Herbert instead gone to trial and been convicted of first-degree murder, the jury would have then decided whether to sentence him to execution or life in prison without parole.

The search for a body

DeVivo was last seen on the evening of Feb. 23, 2012, after his caregiver dropped him off at his home. His family reported him missing two days later. 

The prosecution in Herbert’s case said Herbert was looking to steal money when he burglarized DeVivo's home that same evening. 

Herbert said he only meant to silence DeVivo’s shouts, when DeVivo woke to find him in the house, by smothering him with his own T-shirt, but ended up killing him instead, according to the Pocono Record. 

After taking DeVivo's wallet and credit cards, he put DeVivo’s body in the trunk of DeVivo’s 2012 Chevrolet Malibu, and later drove to South Carolina where he dumped the body.

Herbert, a 1998 graduate of Buford High School, was arrested two days later, on Feb. 25, by Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers after he was found driving Devivo's car, according to a Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office incident report. 

Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office investigators began working the case after receiving a call for assistance from Pennsylvania’s Stroud Area Regional Police on March 1, 2012. 

Based on GPS evidence gathered from DeVivo’s stolen car, detectives learned the car had been driven to two different locations in Lancaster County before Herbert’s arrest, including an area along Lynwood Drive, as well as a spot west of Mt. Carmel Road. 

Detectives said in the incident report that Herbert has family in Lancaster County. 

The investigation gained its most significant lead on March 12, following an interview between Herbert and a Stroud Area police detective at the Mecklenburg County Detention Center.

That detective called Lancaster County investigators to say Herbert told him he found DeVivo’s body in the truck of the car during a trip to visit family, the report said.

Herbert told investigators he dumped the body behind a vacant house in a wooded area off Mount Carmel Road, the report said.

Using directions relayed from Herbert over a phone, investigators searched that area until they found the location, a creek bed at the end of a long, dirt driveway.

An autopsy determined DeVivo’s body had been exposed to the elements for several weeks.


Herbert was charged with receiving stolen property after he was found driving DeVivo’s car, and later received resisting a public officer and a fugitive/extradition from other state charges by Mecklenburg County authorities. 

According to the S.C. Judicial Department online case database, Herbert had previously been arrested in January 2006 on a charge of grand larceny, $5,000 or more, in the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which covers Lancaster County. He pleaded guilty and received a one year suspended sentence, one year of probation and was also fined $628.75.

During a 2012 interview, Lynn Oliver, agent in charge of the Lancaster County office for Probation and Parole, said Herbert was charged with violating his probation in that case.

As part of his plea, Herbert was supposed to serve probation from March 8, 2006, to March 7, 2007, though he never completed the sentence, Oliver said. A warrant was issued in July of that year and the case was open until his arrest.

After his arrest in the DeVivo case, Herbert was later moved from the Mecklenburg County Jail in Charlotte to the Lancaster County Detention Center to answer for the probation violation. He was jailed there briefly on a $100,000 bond and later extradited to Pennsylvania.

Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Matt Shaw said Wednesday, April 9, Herbert was never charged with any crimes in Lancaster County in connection to the DeVivo case.

“There are some state statutes that would apply to this case, but they are relatively minor compared to murder,” Shaw said. “There is a statute about disposing of a body, but criminally, he (was facing) life in prison or the death sentence in Pennsylvania for his charges there and this charge here was small in comparison.”


Editor’s note: Reporter Andrew Scott with the Pocono Record in Pennsylvania contributed to this story.

Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416