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Mollie Tibbetts' Murder Suspect Dealt Two Setbacks In First Court Appearance

A judge denied Cristhian Rivera's attorney's request for a private hearing and increased his bail to $5 million. 

By Gina Tron

Cristhian Rivera, the suspect in the murder of Mollie Tibbetts, made his first court appearance Wednesday afternoon in Poweshiek County, Iowa, and was quickly dealt two setbacks by a judge. 

His defense attorney Allan Richards, who was sporting an American flag tie, argued that media coverage of the case could negatively influence the presumption of innocence for Rivera as he asked the judge to ban the media from the courtroom.

Richards mentioned that even government officials have commented negatively on his client.

"The government has weighed in at the highest levels," he said.

President Trump alluded to Rivera during a rally in West Virginia on Tuesday evening, not long after the announcement that he was in custody.

“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,” Trump said. “It should’ve never happened. Illegally in our country.”

The prosecution, however, argued there was nothing unusual about the media coverage for this proceeding and Magistrate Judge Diane Crookham-Johnson agreed. 

Richards has claimed that Rivera is not in the US illegally and that people have been jumping to conclusions. He called the government, specifically, incorrect in a gag order he filed on Wednesday morning, the Des Moines Register reported.

"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 in that document.


In the second blow to the Rivera's defense, Crookham-Johnson denied Richard's request for a more "attainable" bond for his client. Rivera, 24, has been held on a $1 million cash bond. In fact, Crookham-Johnson upped that bond, making it a $5 million cash bond instead.

She set his first hearing for Aug. 31.

Rivera, 24, walked into the courtroom wearing headphones so that a Spanish-to-English translation could be communicated to him.

He has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of the 20-year-old University of Iowa student who vanished while jogging on the evening of July 18.

Police revealed on Tuesday that Rivera is an undocumented immigrant who has been living in Iowa at least four years, but possibly up to seven. Rivera is from Guayabillo, Mexico, according to his Facebook page. Rivera worked for dairy farm Yarrabee Farms, The Des Moines Register reported, which is owned by a prominent Republican family in the area. In a statement, the farm's owner said Rivera was vetted through a government E-system and was a good standing employee. 

According to court documents, Rivera followed Tibbetts as she was out jogging. He said she threatened to call the cops when he approached her, but claims he blacked out after that. When he came to at an intersection on the outskirts of Brooklyn, Iowa, he remembered he had Tibbetts' body in the trunk of his car, according to the documents. Rivera said he does remember seeing Tibbetts’ headphones in his lap and taking her bloodied body out of his trunk.

“The defendant further described during the interview that he dragged Tibbetts on foot from his vehicle to a secluded location in a cornfield,” the affidavit says.

“I can’t speak about the motive. I can just tell you that it seemed that he followed her, seemed to be drawn to her on that particular day, for whatever reason he chose to abduct her,” Rick Rahn of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said told reporters at a Tuesday news conference.

[Photos: [Photo: Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation]