Suspect in Mollie Tibbetts’ Murder Asks Judge to Approve Sleep Deprivation Expert Witness

Cristhian Rivera (WHO-HD)

POWESHIEK COUNTY, Iowa – A new motion filed in the case of the man charged with Mollie Tibbetts’ murder is shedding light on issues the defense plans to raise about whether the suspect’s alleged confession should be excluded from evidence.

Attorneys for Cristhian Rivera filed a motion Wednesday to request the court’s approval to appoint expert witnesses.  They are also asking for the state to pay for hiring those experts as well as services already provided by a translator.

Rivera is charged with First-Degree Murder in the death of Tibbetts. She disappeared while jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn on July 18, 2018. She was found just over a month later after investigators say Rivera led them to her body, which was concealed in a cornfield.

The motion filed Wednesday asks for approval of Dr. Kimberly Fenn of Michigan State University, an expert in the area of sleep deprivation and its effects on the actions and statements of the sleep-deprived, as an expert witness.

The motion states, “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.”

Defense attorneys argue that the characterization of Ms. Gardner’s services is inaccurate, and she is an expert witness in the matter. They say her 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 retainer to be approved for Dr. Fenn, $3,000 be approved for DNA expert Dr. Michael Spence and for the interpreter to be given expert witness status and her previous claims for compensation be approved.

A judge has yet to rule on the defense’s motion.

Three days of hearings are planned for next week, starting Tuesday, on motions to suppress evidence in the case. Rivera’s attorneys want his alleged confession thrown out as well as evidence found during a search of his car excluded because they claim their client wasn’t read his Miranda rights. Investigators say Tibbetts’ blood was found during that search.

Rivera’s trial is scheduled for February 4, 2020. It has been moved to Woodbury County due to pre-trial publicity.

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