weather icon Clear

Henderson woman has ‘hope’ after arrest in daughter’s 1995 killing

Updated May 18, 2019 - 8:44 pm

Rhonda Hunnel wants to see justice for her daughter’s killing, but after 24 years, the Henderson mother is even more focused on another goal: bringing people together by sharing the teen’s story.

Hunnel said she wants to spread “Gina’s hope,” her vision of what her daughter, Regina “Gina” Krieger, would have wanted from the world.

“To me, Gina’s hope is all of this, to bring everybody together and stop this division and lack of sympathy,” Hunnel said. “… That’s what I learned from losing my daughter.”

Regina was days away from turning 15 when she disappeared in 1995 from her basement bedroom at her father’s house in Burley, Idaho. Her decomposed body resurfaced weeks later on a river bank.

It would take 24 years for an arrest to be made, when 56-year-old Gilberto Rodriguez, of Burley, was charged with first-degree murder in February.

He has pleaded not guilty, court records show.

On April 17, prosecutors filed a notice to seek the death penalty. An Idaho judge sent the case to district court May 8, another step toward a resolution in Regina’s death.

Hunnel has shared her daughter’s story whenever she can, through talks in prisons and writing books about her life and “Gina’s hope.”

“Regina’s hope is just justice, first of all, that initially justice will come, and justice will prevail, and the truth will reveal itself,” Hunnel said during a February interview in her Henderson home. “Gina’s Hope is definitely love, love and forgiveness.”

Gina’s disappearance

Hunnel plans to follow most of Rodriguez’s court proceedings from Henderson, only traveling to Idaho for a trial and, if he’s found guilty, to see him convicted and sentenced, she said.

“We’re definitely going to trial, and I knew that would happen,” Hunnel said after speaking with prosecutors on May 8. “Because of this type of case, and how old it is, you could probably anticipate six to 12 months before there’s actually a trial date.”

Hunnel told the Review-Journal that during an April preliminary hearing, two witnesses testified — a man who said he was with Rodriguez the night Regina was killed, and a man associated with drug cartels who knew Rodriguez.

The Times-News in Twin Falls, Idaho, reported that Cody Thompson testified he saw Rodriguez go into Regina’s bedroom in 1995 and come out with a body, which Thompson helped Rodriguez dump in the river.

The newspaper also reported that the man involved with the cartels testified that Rodriguez told him about the killing.

Hunnel has said her daughter admitted to using drugs during the last months of her life.

Regina was a happy teenager who loved to doodle and sing in her church’s children’s choir. Above all, Regina loved her friends, Hunnel said.

“Everybody was somebody special in her eyes,” she said.

Regina had promised to stop using drugs, and Hunnel made arrangements for the 14-year-old to live with her again in Twin Falls.

Then her daughter disappeared.

“It was Feb. 27, 1995, that I got a phone call, 7 o’clock in the morning, from my son, who was 13 at the time, saying that Regina was missing — there was blood in the basement, that there were police officers around the house, his dad was freaking out,” Hunnel said.

In mid-April, law enforcement rang: A body was found by the Snake River.

Horseback riders found the body, later identified as Regina, The Associated Press reported. Her throat was slashed, and she had been stabbed in the heart. She was in the river at least 30 days.

In 2001, Hunnel began sending letters to police departments, politicians and true crime TV shows, begging for help to find answers.

In December 2015, an FBI agent named Chris Sheehan offered to help.

“I’m happy that the new investigators with Cassia County that actually oversee my daughter’s case have been very helpful and supportive with Chris and his efforts with this investigation,” Hunnel said.

The Salt Lake City FBI field office, which covers the Idaho county, declined a request for a reporter to speak with Chris until Rodriguez’s court proceedings are finished.

Hunnel didn’t want to talk about the gruesome details of her daughter’s death, and declined to speculate about what evidence led to Rodriguez’s arrest.

‘Healing from grief and anger’

While living in Las Vegas for the first time from 2006 to 2011, Hunnel started writing her first book, “A Snake in the Grass: A Memoir,” about Regina, and Hunnel’s life after her death.

Hunnel said she wrote the book with inmates in mind.

When Regina died, Hunnel was working as a corrections officer in a juvenile facility. She began sharing her story with teenagers at the facility, later speaking at adult prisons. During presentations, she shows inmates a slideshow with pictures of Regina.

“My goal was to write this book with the intention that here’s a guy or gal sitting in a small cell room, lying down on a really thin mattress, reading my book and possibly relating to it from their own childhood,” she said.

Now that she’s back in the valley, Hunnel plans to write a second book about her life.

“It’s just going to describe a little bit more in detail my journey of loss, healing from grief and anger,” she said. “And then it will go into the actual court events, as far as when (Rodriguez was) finally arrested, and then I’m going to go into details regarding my experiences of people I’ve met.”

When Hunnel does attend court proceedings, she plans to print the words “Gina’s hope” on shirts for her and others to wear.

“I believe this is going to be a long trial, and I just want that message to be repeated during this whole process,” she said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Crime Videos
Wayne Newton testifies during burglary trial
Wayne Newton takes the stand during the trial of Weslie Martin, one of two men who allegedly broke into and burglarized the Newton family residence.
Woman suspected of pushing man off Las Vegas bus stays on house arrest - VIDEO
Cadesha Bishop, accused of pushing a 74-year-old man off a Las Vegas bus to his death, will remain on house arrest until her trial in April 2020. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trial begins for man with wire left in his body after medical procedure
Opening statements began today in a trial where a man says a physician left a wire in his body during a heart procedure in 2005. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police warn of fuel thieves
Las Vegas police and fire officials are warning the public of the danger of fuel thieves using modified vehicles to transport and dispense gasoline. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Surveillance video captures details of man pushed off bus
RTC surveillance video captures multiple views and audio of Cadesha Bishop shoving 74-year-old Serge Fournier off a Las Vegas bus.
LVMPD Investigates 9th Officer Involved Shooting of 2019 -- Armed Robbery Suspects in Summerlin
LVMPD Captain Yasenia Yatomi gives preliminary details about an officer involved shooting that occurred in the 1200 block of N. Town Center Dr.(Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Las Vegas woman accused of pushing man off bus pleads not guilty
A woman caught on video shoving a 74-year-old man off of a Las Vegas bus pleaded not guilty Thursday to murder and other charges related to his death. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspect faces 15 counts in shooting at Las Vegas Strip mall - VIDEO
Hasean Quinn, the man who faces multiple counts including assault with a deadly weapon after a gunshot was fired inside the Fashion Show mall on the Las Vegas Strip on Memorial Day, appeared in court Wednesday afternoon. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
A man whose wives were found dead 8 years apart under similar circumstances is denied bail - VIDEO
Alan Sylwester, the man suspected of killing his wife, was denied bail again Wednesday morning during his preliminary hearing in Henderson.
Chief deputy district attorney: “Justice was done” in child pornography case - VIDEO
Clark County Chief Deputy District Attorney James Sweetin speaks with the media after the sentencing of Christopher Sena, the man who was found guilty in February of multiple counts of sexual assault with a minor, incest, use of a minor in the production of pornography, lewdness with a child younger than 14 and child abuse. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas man gets 54 life sentences for sexually assaulting children - VIDEO
Christopher Sena, who was found guilty in February of multiple counts of sexual assault with a minor, incest, use of a minor in the production of pornography, lewdness with a child younger than 14 and child abuse, was sentenced to over 337 years behind bars.
CCSD police on the arrest of Deamonte Warren - VIDEO
CCSD police arrested Chaparral High School custodian Deamonte Warren on Friday on three counts of a school employee having sex with a student and an additional count of providing alcohol to a minor. (Courtesy CCSD Police)
Woman charged with sex trafficking an 11-year-old girl on the Strip
Gigi Mitchell faces seven felony charges including sex trafficking and child abuse for bringing an 11-year-old girl to the Las Vegas Strip to work as a prostitute. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bel Air Drive Officer Involved Shooting Presser - Video
LVMPD Assistant Sheriff Tim Kelly goes over the officer-involved shooting on Bel Air Drive.
Former Las Vegas police officer get 25 life sentences for sexually abusing child
Former Las Vegas Police officer Bret Theil was sentences to 25 consecutive life sentences at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, May 15, 2019, for sexually abusing a child over a decade. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Man pushed off bus in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Las Vegas police arrested 25-year-old Cadesha Bishop on May 6, after she allegedly pushed Serge Fournier, 74, off of a parked bus near Fremont Street and 13th Street about 4:50 p.m. March 21.(Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
$1 million bail set for mother charged with drowning 2-year-old daughter
The 44-year-old mother who police say drowned her 2-year-old daughter in a bathtub in a northeast Las Vegas apartment on Saturday made her first court appearance on Tuesday, May 14th.
Officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child appears in court
Matthew James Terry, a Las Vegas police officer arrested on suspicion of lewdness with a child, appears in court Monday morning, May 13, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Police seek hit-and-run driver
A motorcycle officer pulled over a Mercedes SUV, and after the officer came to a stop, it shifted into reverse, intentionally hitting the officer.
Thedrick Andres becomes Henderson Police Department acting chief
Henderson Police Department Acting Chief Thedrick Andres speaks about his goals in his new position at the Henderson Police headquarters, Monday, April 29, 2019. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
2 dead, 1 wounded after east valley neighborhood shooting
One man and one woman are dead and another man wounded after a shooting Thursday afternoon in an east valley neighborhood.
Bail denied for former police detective charged with murder
Bail was denied Tuesday for former Metropolitan Police Department detective, Pamela Rene Bordeaux who is accused of fatally shooting her daughter’s ex-husband during supervised visitation with his child.
Third suspect in death of California doctor appears in court
The third and final suspect in the killing of a California doctor, Jon Kennison, 27, appears in court Friday, April 19, 2019. Kennison, Kelsey Nichole Turner, a former model, and Diana Pena, face charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Richard Cleaves of Pahrump arrested in burglary on former Binion property
Updated press release regarding burglary on a former Binion property: Richard Cleaves, 56 of Pahrump, has been arrested on a warrant for burglary, conspiracy to commit grand larceny, and destruction of property. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Judge denies bail for suspect charged in the killing of California doctor
Diana Pena, one of three people charged in the killing of a California doctor, is being held without bail after her fingerprints were found on the car where Dr. Thomas Burchard's body was discovered.
Ex-NFL player and girlfriend held without bail in child’s death
Former professional football player Cierre Wood and his girlfriend, Amy Taylor, face charges of murder and child abuse in the death of Taylor's 5-year-old daughter. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP identifies man who was shot by trooper on Mount Charleston
Nevada Highway Patrol updates the media on the April 2, 2019 officer involved shooting on Mount Charleston. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas court grants '90 Day Fiancé' defendant continuance
"90 Day Fiance" stars Colt Johnson and his mother Debra left the Las Vegas Justice Center Thursday, after the court granted Larissa dos Santos Lima a continuance in her misdemeanor case, in which she is accused of domestic violence against Colt. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Details released on in-custody death
Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank addresses media about details of an in-custody death at Clark County Detention Center on March 31. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man hurt in shooting with Nevada troopers at Mount Charleston
A man was injured in a shooting involving Nevada Highway Patrol troopers Tuesday afternoon at Mount Charleston on state Route 157 near Echo Trail. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Officer wounds inmate during escape attempt
An officer fired on an inmate who stole a vehicle and tried to flee, ramming several cars and leading officers on a chase until he ran out of gas.
Person of Interest Found For Downtown Las Vegas Bar - Video
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is seeking help to find a person of interest in a potential homicide case at a bar in downtown Las Vegas.