Poweshiek County judge rules state must pay for expert in Rivera's defense

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MONTEZUMA, Iowa (KCRG) - A Poweshiek County District Court judge has ruled that the State of Iowa must cover expenses for an expert for the defense in the Mollie Tibbetts murder trial.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera appears in a Poweshiek County Courtroom in August 2018. (POOL PHOTO)

Judge Joel Yates of the Eighth Judicial District of Iowa approved the application filed by Cristhian Bahena Rivera's lawyers to have the state cover the expense of a forensic expert to assist his defense.

Rivera will receive a $3,200 initial stipend to hire Brian Leslie of Criminal Case Consultants, a legal consultancy firm based in Buffalo, New York. This amount covers the first steps toward securing Leslie's services, and does not include testimony fees or travel expenses. Rivera's attorneys would need to file new motions to receive further stipends.

The court had previously ruled Rivera to be indigent in a filing permitting state funding of an interpreter. The judge made the same ruling in this circumstance.

Leslie has served as an expert in the field for over 15 years. The defense said that he would offer experience in investigations and interrogation techniques.

Rivera's lawyers argued in the filing that "given the length, context, language barriers and other factors involved in the
police interrogation of" him, he needs a forensic expert to fully understand those issues. They said that denial of the application would deny his constitutional right to a full and complete defense, and equal protection under the law.

The state did not object to the dollar amount in the application, noting that the court had found him indigent before and the appointment would not be prejudicial to the case. But, they disagreed in their filing that there was anything improper about the interrogation of Rivera.

Rivera is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Tibbetts. He led investigators to her body in a rural area south of Brooklyn on August 21, 2018. She had been missing since July 18, 2018.

The trial for the case is currently set for September 3, 2019. A hearing on a motion for change of venue will be held on March 27 at 9:30 a.m.