The lawyer for the illegal immigrant accused of killing an Iowa college student suggested Wednesday that President Trump has tainted his client’s chance to get a fair hearing by publicly talking about the case.
Cristhian Rivera made his first appearance in an Iowa courtroom Tuesday on first degree murder charges in the slaying of Mollie Tibbetts, whose disappearance last month drew national headlines.
The judge set Mr. Rivera’s bail at $5 million, cash-only.
Mr. Rivera, according to investigators, admitted to having accosted her while she was jogging July 18, and then hiding her body. He led police to her body this week.
The case enflamed the immigration debate, with Mr. Trump weighing in Tuesday night, blaming a broken immigration system for contributing to the murder and saying it “should have never happened.”
“The government has weighed in at the highest levels of a predisposition this young man, Cristhian, is guilty,” the defense lawyer said.
He asked for restrictions on press coverage and a gag order.
The judge rejected his plea for restrictions.
Mr. Rivera could face a sentence of life in prison without parole if found guilty.
His lawyer said he came to the U.S. as a juvenile and had an education of only 7th or 8th grade. Authorities say he is in the country without authorization.
He had been working at an Iowa farm, which released a statement saying it used E-Verify, the government’s proactive system for verifying the legal status of employees.
Mr. Rivera apparently was not flagged by E-Verify, suggesting he either had legal status at some point then lost it, or else used a fake identity to get employment.
Republican lawmakers said the Tibbetts slaying was more evidence that the U.S. immigration system is broken by allowing a “predator” to remain in the community.
Immigrant-rights advocates, though, said the killing shouldn’t affect the broader immigration debate.
“As horrible as this crime was, a crime like this does not represent the contributions, compassion, and work ethic of immigrants, documented or not, who live in the U.S.,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum. “Our political leaders should refrain from using this heartbreaking incident to further politicize our immigration debate.”
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