Mollie Tibbetts Murder Suspect Is Not an Illegal Immigrant, Lawyer Says

The lawyer for the accused murderer of 20-year-old Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts claims that his client is not an illegal immigrant, contrary to previous reports.

In Cristhian Bahena River's first public appearance, a judge ordered him held on $5 million bail Wednesday. Attorney Allan Richards argued against allowing expanded news media coverage of the case.

"The coverage that's out there is leaning all one way and in fact, government has weighed in at the highest levels," Richards said in court.

"In our system of justice, he's entitled to that presumption of innocence until some evidence is presented. Portraying Cristhian as something that he isn't, in some ways I view that as a political payback for what's swirling around," Richards continued.

"One nod of the head, one glance, one slight of hand that will be partially taken out of context and presented over and over which would be highly prejudicial to the defendant, so I urge the court to exclude the media from these proceedings," Richards added.

He later told PEOPLE that before Tibbetts' murder, Rivera, who worked on Yarrabee Farms in Brooklyn, Iowa, had "no prior criminal record."

"He was just a part of the community. An all-American boy working really hard," Richards said.

He continued, "Whether or not there was something that happened that was very outrageous that is a different matter. I have seen no evidence on that at no point and he is presumed innocent until we see it."

"He lived alone and worked 12 hours [a] day, seven days a week. He was handling the milk supply. He is a loving father," Richards added, calling him a "very productive worker."

In court, Rivera appeared in a black and white striped jumpsuit and required translators throughout the hearing. His bond was increased from $1 million to $5 million, despite Richards' pleas for mercy.


Rivera reportedly admitted that he chased her down in July and kidnapped her while she was out for a run on the day she went missing. She had been missing for over a month, with her disappearance making national headlines, when her body was found this week.

Earlier reports detailed that Rivera was an undocumented migrant from Mexico. But subsequent reports say he was a legal resident of Iowa, having lived in the state for four to seven years working at Yarrabee Farms, a Brooklyn-area farm owned by Eric Lang, the brother of Craig Lang, a prominent Republican. Lang verified Rivera was legally living in Iowa.