Bismarck man convicted of murdering infant daughter sentenced to life

Jose Rivera-Rieffel, left, and his attorney, Kent Morrow, in October 2018.

A Bismarck man convicted of murdering his infant daughter was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole.

Jose Rivera-Rieffel, 23, was convicted in March on felony charges of murder and child abuse related to his daughter's April 2018 death eight days after emergency workers took her to a Bismarck hospital for treatment of multiple head injuries.

Burleigh County State's Attorney Julie Lawyer during Friday's hearing recommended a life sentence due to the young age of the victim, Rivera-Rieffel's lack of remorse and the similarity of the case to a previous Rivera-Rieffel offense. He pleaded guilty in 2017 to child abuse after his other infant daughter was brought to a hospital with injuries.

Lawyer said a presentence investigation showed that Rivera-Rieffel attended only one parenting class after that conviction, and that he said he was there only because of his probation.

Lawyer said that was evidence Rivera-Rieffel did not learn from, or feel remorse for, his past actions. She said a “harsh case” requires a harsh punishment.

Rivera-Rieffel did not comment during his sentencing.

South Central District Judge Gail Hagerty said she was concerned about the “terrible abuse” the child must have experienced before her death. The judge also said she feels that the girl's mother also was a victim. Jennifyr Lopez pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges for contributing to the deprivation of a minor in connection to Rivera-Rieffel's case in 2018.

“It’s a heartbreaking story in many ways,” Hagerty said.

The judge said in handing down the life sentence that there is “no possibility of rehabilitation” for Rivera-Rieffel as he has shown “no remorse” for his daughter throughout the process.

Defense attorney Kent Morrow said in court that he intends to file an appeal for his client. He told the Tribune after the sentencing that "The issues that I’d like to be on the appeal are that the evidence is circumstantial, so there's no evidence to tie Mr. Rivera to any particular cause of death and there was no evidence that any particular instrument or weapon or anything like that caused her death."

Lawyer said during the trial that the infant had multiple head injuries including skull fractures and brain hemorrhages, and that Rivera-Rieffel caused the child's death either by striking, shaking or applying “crushing force.” Morrow during the trial said the state didn’t produce a weapon and had no witnesses.

Morrow told the Tribune that he would have liked to use a "creative approach" with Rivera-Rieffel's sentence that would "take into account not only what he was just convicted of but what he has to offer for the future."

"I recommended that he serve 25 years before being eligible for parole," he said. "Then it’d be up to the parole board to decide if he needed to be rehabilitated even longer than that."

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