The defense attorneys of a man charged with killing an Iowa woman are now requesting the state to pay for a sleep deprivation expert and that the state pay for that expert’s fees.
On July 18, 2018, 20-year-old University of Iowa student Molly Tibbetts disappeared after going on a run in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.
While investigating Tibbitts’ death, investigators found a home surveillance video that showed a car following a woman running. After watching it for hours, investigators found clues that led them to Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, an undocumented immigrant.
Rivera, who did not resist when police detained him, told authorities that he saw Tibbits and pursed her. He got out of his car and started running beside Tibbetts. She warned him she would call the police, which angered him. According to the police, Rivera said that he blacked out at some point and later woke up at an intersection. He realized that he had put the woman in the trunk of his car and when he took her out, he saw blood on the side of her head.
Rivera led the police to Tibbets’ body, which was in a cornfield, covered with corn leaves. Investigators determined that Tibbets had been stabbed to death.
Rivera was charged with the first degree murder of Mollie Tibbetts. Bail was set at $1 million.
Because Rivera is an undocumented immigrant, this story made national news. President Trump even made reference to the case at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia. President Trump said, “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. Should have never happened. Illegally in our country. We’ve had a huge impact but the laws are so bad, the immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting it changed but we have to get more Republicans.”
Vice President Mike Pence also made a statement about Tibbitts’ death. He wrote a tweet stating, “Heartbroken by the news about Mollie Tibbetts. Mollie was an amazing young woman and we are praying for her parents, brothers & friends in this time of unimaginable grief. … We commend the swift action by local, state, & federal investigators working in Iowa in apprehending an illegal immigrant, who’s now charged with first-degree murder. Now, justice will be served. We will never forget Mollie Tibbetts.”
Unfortunately, neither the president nor the vice president noted that most violent crime in the United States is committed by American citizens. The crime rate for undocumented aliens is lower than the rate of crime committed by native-born citizens, but that isn’t the kind of information that stokes passions at political rallies.
Defense Pretrial Motions
Cristhian Rivera’s defense attorneys filed a motion to request the court’s approval to appoint expert witness Dr. Kimberly Fenn of Michigan State University. Dr. Fenn is an expert in the area of sleep deprivation and its effects on the actions and statements of the sleep-deprived. The motion also requested that the state pay Dr. Fenn’s fees.
In the motion, the defense team wrote, “Defendant has raised the issue of voluntariness of his statement to law enforcement as well as whether any waiver of a purported advisement of Miranda rights was knowing and voluntary.”
Rivera’s attorneys are also asking that the interpreter who was court-appointed to assist their client be given expert witness status, in order to allow her to be compensated. The motion claims “neither the State Public Defendant nor State Court Administration want to compensate Ms. Gardner for the services she has rendered to date. Citing various bureaucratic reasons, Ms. Gardner is being characterized as simply providing interpreter services and thus cannot be compensated.” The defense team states that Gardner’s translation of Rivera’s interview with police allows the defense to challenge the accuracy of officers’ Spanish and the accuracy of the transcript that was provided by the government.
The motion asks for a $2,500 for Dr. Fenn, $3,000 for DNA expert Dr. Michael Spence, and for the interpreter to be given expert witness status and her previous claims for compensation be approved.