Man indicted in killing of Laken Riley, a Georgia case at the center of national immigration debate

May 8, 2024, 12:53 PM | Updated: 1:00 pm

ATLANTA (AP) — A Georgia man has been indicted on murder charges by grand jurors who said he intended to rape a nursing student whose body was found near a running trail on the University of Georgia campus.

It is the first time such a motive has been revealed in the February killing of Laken Hope Riley, which has become a flashpoint in the national debate over immigration reform. Republicans have used the murder case against Jose Ibarra, a Venezuelan citizen, to stoke fears about immigration by claiming that some immigrants would commit violent crimes if they are allowed entry into the U.S.

A Georgia grand jury this week handed down an indictment accusing Ibarra of repeatedly striking Riley in the head with a rock and asphyxiating her, and also pulling up her clothing with the intention of raping her.

The 10-count indictment also accuses Ibarra of hindering Riley’s attempts to call 911; and of tampering with evidence by concealing a jacket and gloves.

The killing stunned students and staff at the university after police said Ibarra did not know Riley and took her life in an apparently random attack. Officers discovered the body of Riley, a 22-year-old Augusta University College of Nursing student, on Feb. 22. That led officers to zero in on a nearby apartment complex, where they eventually apprehended Ibarra, 26, who lived in the apartments.

“This was a crime of opportunity where he saw an individual, and bad things happened,” University of Georgia Police Chief Jeff Clark said shortly after the killing.

Within weeks of the killing, Riley became the face of immigration reform for many conservatives because of Ibarra’s status. Immigration officials have said Ibarra had unlawfully entered the United States in 2022 and was allowed to stay.

At the State of the Union address, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene shouted at President Joe Biden: “Say her name!” The president then held up a pin with Riley’s name on it and spoke briefly about the case.

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Man indicted in killing of Laken Riley, a Georgia case at the center of national immigration debate