DES MOINES, Iowa – A court document filed Wednesday morning
states that the man accused of killing a 20-year-old University
of Iowa student was working legally in Iowa.
Cristhian Rivera was charged Tuesday in the July 18
disappearance of Mollie Tibbetts.
Law enforcement officials Tuesday said he was an undocumented
immigrant, which immediately fueled political debate, including
comments from President Donald Trump and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also filed a detainer
to make sure Rivera, 24, was not released. He is being held on a
$1 million cash bond. A preliminary hearing on the murder charge
was scheduled for Aug. 31.
A document filed by Rivera's attorney Wednesday calls into
question Rivera's immigration status.
The government is incorrectly promoting the idea that Rivera is
not in Iowa legally, attorney Allen Richards said in a court
document asking for a gag order in the case.
"Sad and sorry Trump has weighed in on this matter in national
media which will poison the entire possible pool of jury
members," Richards wrote, referencing a statement from the
president citing Tibbetts' death as an example why "immigration
laws are such a disgrace."
Rivera has lived in Iowa for four to seven years, working at
Yarrabee Farms, a Brooklyn, Iowa-area farm owned by the family
of Craig Lang, a prominent Iowa Republican.
Craig Lang has verified that Rivera is in Iowa legally,
according to Richards' motion.
"Craig Lang supports Cristhian’s right to be in this
jurisdiction and for the government to support any other idea of
status publicly flies in the face of such statement," Richards
wrote." Cristhian deserves the court’s protection as to his
characterization before a jury pool."
A Poweshiek District Court Judge on Wednesday denied the gag
The White House tweeted about the murder during the Wednesday
hearing. The White House post included video testimony of family
members in other cases whose loved ones were killed by “repeat
illegal alien” criminals.
During Tuesday's news conference, law enforcement officials
described Rivera as an "undocumented immigrant."
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Assistant Director Mitch
Mortvedt on Wednesday deferred questions about the matter to
“What we based everything off of as far as saying he is an
illegal alien is we worked with Homeland Security Investigations
and they have him as an illegal alien,” Mortvedt said. “DCI
doesn’t work immigration stuff so anytime this stuff comes up we
defer to them.”
Shawn Neudauer, a spokesman for the federal investigations
agency, could not be immediately reached Wednesday. It remains
unclear what – if any – specific documentation Rivera may have
had to live and work in Iowa.
Yarrabee Farms, Rivera’s employer, issued a statement Tuesday
night saying Rivera was vetted through the government's E-Verify
system. However, a government archive does not indicate the
Brooklyn, Iowa, farm as a participating member of the system.
On Wednesday, officials from the farm acknowledged they did not
use the E-Verify system and that Rivera gave them false
Dane Lang is the son of Craig Lang, the former president of both
the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation and the Iowa Board of Regents
and a 2018 Republican candidate for state secretary of
agriculture. Documents immediately reviewed by the Des Moines
Register listed several owners of Yarrabee Farms, including Dane
Lang and Eric Lang, Craig's brother.
On Tuesday, authorities said they found a body in a cornfield
that they tentatively identified as Tibbetts', based on clothing
found at the scene, according to a criminal complaint.
Rivera who resides in rural Poweshiek County, Iowa, was charged
Tuesday with first-degree murder in the alleged abduction and
death of Tibbetts, according to the Iowa Division of Criminal
In the wake of Rivera's arrest, Republicans, including Trump and
Reynolds, railed against the country's immigration system.
Trump alluded to the case at a rally in West Virginia on
Tuesday: “You heard about today with the illegal alien coming
in, very sadly, from Mexico and you saw what happened to that
incredible, beautiful young woman,” he said, shaking his head.
“Should’ve never happened.”
Tibbetts was last seen on surveillance footage the night of July
18 running along Boundary and Middle Streets in her hometown
Brooklyn, Iowa, about 70 miles east of Des Moines. Rivera
allegedly followed her in a black Chevy Malibu.
Rivera parked his car and started running alongside and behind
Tibbetts. She pulled out a cellphone and said she would call the
police. Rivera told police he panicked and got mad, and then
"blocked" his memory, becoming aware while at the driveway of a
cornfield that he had placed a woman in his trunk, according to
a criminal complaint.
Rivera dragged the woman to an isolated area in the cornfield,
he told police, then covered her body with corn leaves and drove
away. After officials identified his vehicle in surveillance
footage, he complied with law enforcement and led them to the
On Wednesday, Tibbetts' family released a statement through the
Iowa Department of Public Safety that said in part, "Our hearts
are broken. On behalf of Mollie’s entire family, we thank all of
those from around the world who have sent their thoughts and
prayers for our girl. We know that many of you will join us as
we continue to carry Mollie in our hearts forever."
The family asked to be allowed to grieve in private.