Mollie Tibbetts case: Suspect's employer did not use the federal E-Verify system to vet his identity
24-year-old Cristhian Rivera, the suspected undocumented immigrant who was charged with the murder of missing college student Mollie Tibbetts, appeared in court on August 22 for the first time after he took the authorities to the spot where he dumped her body. The Mexican-native did not say anything as he walked into the Poweshiek County Courthouse at 1 pm local time with the sheriff's deputies on either side. Among all the people who had come to watch from the gallery were his ex-girlfriend and their 3-year-old daughter. Rivera was in the same black and white striped jumpsuit from the previous day and had needed the services of two translators during the entire hearing.
His attorney, Allan Richards, had argued at the beginning of the hearing that all media be banned from the trial and that the case itself be a private affair. He had also submitted court records that claimed Rivera was legally in the country and that he had been there since he was a minor, reported the Daily Mail.
Rivera has been subject to an ICE detainer and his legal status had been nitpicked on by Republican critics since the time he was arrested. The authorities have described him as an "illegal alien" in spite of his employer, Yarrabee Farms in rural Poweshiek County, saying that his legal status had been verified before he was employed four years ago. President Trump also gave his two cents on the issue and stressed that this is why the country needed a wall and stricter immigration policies. He said that the current ones are "pathetic".
On August 22, however, Rivera's employer took back the claim they made about the legal status and said that they had used the "wrong system" to check Rivera's eligibility to work in the country. Yarrabee Farms co-owner and manager Dane Lang clarified Wednesday afternoon that the farm did not use a federal E-Verify check on suspect Rivera.
They said that the 24-year-old had given them a different name and someone else's social security number which is what had been used to run the government checks.
Lang said Rivera provided a state-issued photo identification and social security card. “We learned that our employee was not who he said he is.”
Even though all of this was happening, Rivera's lawyer warned against the desire everyone seems to have of portraying his client as "something that he is not" during the hearing. He tried very hard for his client but the judge denied all requests and increased Rivera's bond from $1 million to a staggering $5 million in cash. Rivera did not say a word the entire time aside from answering yes or no when prompted by his interpreter. If he is convicted, he could face deportation or life without parole. The judge has also said that Rivera may have to register as a sex offender.
The young man did not understand his right to waive his preliminary hearing and had to speak to his attorney for a brief moment in the middle of the hearing. The lawyer said that his client had come to the US as a "minor" and had been living a quiet and respectable life for a few years now. He also said that Rivera was working for a "respectable" member of the community - the brother of a prominent GOP member in Iowa.
Rivera had been caught by the authorities after they spotted his vehicle which had been caught on surveillance cameras following the college student as she was jogging on July 18 in Brooklyn, Iowa. It was revealed that he attacked her after she refused to speak to him and threatened to call the police.
The prosecutors had argued for the man's bond to be increased for the safety of the rest of the community. Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown said: "We think it is appropriate given the severity of the charge, what his immigration status as it's been described and the fact that what he is accused of is obviously a very heinous crime the safety of the community should be at the forefront of the court's mind."
Judge Johnson had been on the side of the prosecutors during the entire hearing. She even allowed the media to stay in the room despite the defense attorney's request to make the hearing private. He is scheduled to appear in court again on August 31 at 2 pm local time.
Rivera's attorney had said when asking for the bail to be set at a "reasonable" amount: "Cristhian is a young man. He's been working for a number of years for a respectable person in this community, he has no prior history, he sits here presumed evidence and so far no evidence has been submitted. When he came to this country as a minor, he had the mental capacity of an eighth grader."
When the entire 40-minute court session drew to a close on August 22, Rivera's 25-year-old ex-girlfriend looked worried. Their 3-year-old daughter was on her lap throughout the entire session. Other people who had attended the hearing were visibly upset as he was being led away by the officers.
A few minutes before Rivera had entered the courtroom, the Tibbetts family read out a statement that said: "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. At this time, our family asks that we be allowed the time to process our devastating loss and share our grief in private. Again, thank you for the outpouring of love and support that has been shared in Mollie's name."