A Bismarck man charged with the murder of his 3-month-old daughter sat in front of a jury on Tuesday for the first day in what’s expected to be an eight-day trial.
We heard opening statements and testimony from the deceased baby’s mother.
Inside the Burleigh County Courthouse, a picture was painted of what may have happened between April 18 and 19 of 2018, which resulted in the death of a baby girl.
Twenty-three-year-old Jose Rivera-Rieffel is the sole defendant, charged with Murder with Extreme indifference to a Child victim, a AA Felony, and Child Abuse against a Victim under the age of six, a B Felony.
The state started laying out their case first, telling the jury there were no other adults home at the time the child was abused.
“He caused her injuries, and his abuse led to her death,” explained Karlei Neufeld with the Burleigh County State’s Attorney’s Office.
The defense opened by saying there were no eyewitnesses the night of the abuse to link Rivera-Rieffel to the killing of his child.
“The state’s case is built on suspicion and supposition, but not facts,” added Kent M Morrow, Rivera-Rieffel’s Defense Attorney.
The Prosecution played the 911 call for the jury to hear. The child’s mother, 23-year-old Jennyfer Lopez made the call.
After the dispatcher, Lopez was the next to take the stand.
“I asked if everything was okay, and from my understanding, everything was okay,” Lopez shared.
Through her testimony, Lopez explained that she had two young girls: one who was about a year-and-a-half-old when this all happened in April of 2018, and the 3-month-old.
She told the jury would usually have her brother and his girlfriend watch the girls so she could work the night shift, but about a week before the incident, he stopped helping her.
“(My daughter) cried too much, she was a ‘cry baby’ he said,” Lopez added.
That’s when she turned to Rivera-Rieffel, the father of both kids, who she said was living in his car at the time.
Burleigh County State’s Attorney Julie Lawyer asked Lopez if he was paying child support in any way.
Lopez replied, “No, not to me.”
According to her testimony, she left for work at 9 p.m. on the 18th, and returned home with groceries, after work and running errands, sometime after 8:20 on the morning of the 19th.
When she brought in a handful of groceries, she said she didn’t hear any noise in the apartment.
Shortly after, she said she found Rivera-Rieffel holding their baby, giving her CPR. Lopez said she could tell her baby was having a hard time breathing.
She called 911.
This is where the defense has a problem: Rivera-Rieffel’s Lawyer, Morrow, said Lopez’s testimony and what she told law enforcement is different from what she told the dispatcher during the 911 call.
Lopez told Morrow she lied initially, out of fear of losing her children.
Eventually, the child was air-lifted to Fargo, where she passed away days later.
Julie Lawyer asked her if she did anything to cause her daughter’s injuries.
In tears, Lopez said, “No.”
It was an emotional day at the Courthouse. So far, no one knows exactly what happened between 9 p.m. on April 18 and about 8:20 a.m. on the 19th.
Between Tuesday’s hearing and next Wednesday, 29 witnesses are expected to take the stand.
Lopez did clarify that as far as she knows, no one else entered her apartment during that time. She also said she had no previous issues with Rivera-Rieffel watching her children.