Jurors on Thursday convicted a Bismarck man accused of causing the death of his 12-week-old daughter two years ago.
The jury of eight women and four men found Jose Rivera-Rieffel guilty of murder and child abuse, after about three hours of deliberations. He faces up to life in prison without parole on the murder charge.
Rivera-Rieffel showed no emotion when the verdict was announced. Defense attorney Kent Morrow said his client intends to appeal after sentencing.
“It was a very close case evidencewise,” Morrow told the Tribune after the verdict. “It could have gone either way.”
South Central District Judge Gail Hagerty ordered a presentence investigation.
Burleigh County State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer said after the trial that she was “relieved,” though the sentencing portion of the trial is yet to come. She said she believes justice is done whenever a jury returns a verdict.
“For me, that’s what it’s about,” she said, but added that this case was particularly hard.
“It’s a baby,” she said.
Rivera-Rieffel was charged in the death of his daughter in April 2018. The infant died April 27, eight days after emergency workers took her to a Bismarck hospital for treatment of multiple head injuries.
The injuries the baby suffered could have been inflicted by only one person — Rivera-Rieffel — and during a certain time frame, Lawyer told jurors during Thursday’s closing arguments. Rivera-Rieffel spent the night with the infant and an 18-month-old sibling. Jennyfer Lopez, the child’s mother, was at work all night. For Lopez to come home, inflict injuries on the child and call 911 was “not possible,” Lawyer said.
It takes “substantial force” to inflict the injuries the infant suffered, according to the prosecutor. The girl had multiple head injuries including skull fractures and brain hemorrhages, Lawyer said.
“That doesn’t just happen,” she said.
Rivera-Rieffel caused the infant’s death either by striking, shaking or applying “crushing force,” according to the prosecutor. He showed little emotion for his daughter in the presence of emergency workers — referring to her as “the baby” instead of calling her by name. He at one point expressed concern that the child’s injuries might “come back to us,” Lawyer said.
“He was calm, unemotional,” she said. “He was more worried about himself than (the baby).”
Morrow said during his closing argument that an “absence of facts” in the state’s case left it incomplete. The state wanted jurors to speculate on theories that weren’t supported by facts. The state didn’t produce a weapon and had no witnesses, and the alleged timing of the child’s injuries raised doubt, he said.
“It seems odd that the state would have you believe that he could intentionally cause these injuries, without any corresponding sound or noise, and that he would do that within minutes of knowing that the mother of his child was going to be home,” Morrow said.
The trial in Bismarck began Monday. Jurors got the case late Thursday morning and reached a verdict midafternoon.
Lopez, the baby’s mother, pleaded guilty earlier to misdemeanor charges for contributing to the deprivation of a minor in connection with injuries the girl and a sibling suffered while in Rivera-Rieffel’s care in the months before the infant’s death. She was sentenced to two years supervised probation in August 2018.