Man charged with killing Iowa college student was in U.S. legally, lawyer says


The lawyer representing the man accused of murdering a 20-year-old Iowa college student said Wednesday that his client was in the U.S. legally and called President Trump “sad and sorry” for weighing in on the case.

The Des Moines Register reported that Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s attorney filed a court document Wednesday that said the defendant was working legally in the U.S., contradicting law enforcement officials who said the defendant was an undocumented immigrant.

The court filing comes a day after Rivera, 24, was charged with the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student.


In the court document, attorney Allen Richards accused the government of wrongly promoting the idea that Rivera was in the U.S. illegally. He also criticized Trump for discussing Tibbetts’s death during a rally on Tuesday night.

“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, citing Trump’s comments on the case.

Despite the lawyer’s claims, both U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) maintained that Rivera is not in the country legally.

“A search of records by USCIS revealed Rivera did not make any DACA requests nor were any grants given,” a spokesman said in a statement, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “We have found no record in our systems indicating he has any immigration status.”

An ICE spokesperson referred to Rivera as an “illegal alien from Mexico.”

Rivera has lived in Iowa between four and seven years and worked at Yarrabee Farms during that time, according to The Des Moines Register. The newspaper noted that the company is owned by Eric Lang, the brother of prominent Republican Craig Lang.

Craig Lang confirmed to the attorney that Rivera was in Iowa legally, according to Wednesday’s court filing.

“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.

Law enforcement officials had stated Tuesday that Rivera was an undocumented immigrant, fueling outrage from politicians like Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) who say the U.S. immigration system is not strict enough.

Many GOP lawmakers, including Iowa’s two Republican senators, have suggested that the country’s immigration laws played a role in the murder.

“As Reynolds said, ‘our immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community,’” Sens. Chuck Grassley (R) and Joni Ernst (R) said in a statement. “Too many Iowans have been lost at the hands of criminals who broke our immigration laws. We cannot allow these tragedies to continue.”

The White House later published a video on Twitter of families who have been “permanently separated” because a family member was killed by an immigrant in the country illegally.

-Jordan Fabian contributed to this post which was updated at 4:46 p.m.

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