Brother of suspect in Athens slaying to remain jailed in green card case

Federal prosecutors shed new light on how Diego Ibarra entered U.S.
Diego Jose Ibarra

Credit: cour

Credit: cour

Diego Jose Ibarra

MACON — A brother of the man accused of killing Athens nursing student Laken Hope Riley will remain in jail while a felony charge against him for allegedly having a fake green card wends its way through federal court.

Thursday, a judge denied bond for Diego Ibarra. The 28-year-old Venezuelan was arrested Feb. 23 for presenting a counterfeit permanent resident card to police investigating Riley’s death when they asked him to show them his identification, prosecutors said.

His brother, Jose Ibarra, 26, has been charged with murder in Riley’s death. Authorities believe the Feb. 22 attack happened along a University of Georgia nature and jogging trail adjacent to apartments where the siblings lived.

The Ibarra brothers separately entered the United States illegally, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Diego Ibarra has not been charged or deemed a suspect in the homicide, an episode that has become a flashpoint in the debate on immigration.

In U.S. District Court here on Thursday, federal prosecutors argued he was a serious flight risk if granted release. They cited missed court appearances for past run-ins with police. Prosecutors also noted Diego Ibarra’s alleged removal of an ankle monitor that he had been ordered to wear as a condition to entering the U.S. The monitor enabled authorities to keep track of him until his asylum claim could be heard.

At the end of Thursday’s nearly 90-minute proceeding, magistrate Judge Charles H. Weigle sided with prosecutors’ claims that Diego Ibarra, if released, might abscond.

“It’s not my concern really that Mr. Ibarra is going to go back to Venezuela,” Weigle said. “My concern is that he could go to Idaho or Washington state or California or Vermont or anywhere in the country ... (and) create a new fake green card, and it’d be years and years and years before we find him again.”

If convicted, Diego Ibarra faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Prosecutors outlined their case for keeping him locked up in a Wednesday court filing, which shed new light on his arrival in this country, including a scuffle near El Paso, Texas.

Prosecutors also suggested that he might be affiliated with a Venezuelan street gang, Tren de Aragua or “TdA,” now present in some U.S. cities.

They further described in the filing how an apparent break in the hunt for Riley’s assailant came about 24 hours after she was killed.

An Athens-Clarke County police sergeant on patrol the morning of Feb. 23 spotted Diego Ibarra and noted that he was “similar in appearance” to a potential suspect.

Prosecutors also said he was wearing “a distinctive baseball cap with an Adidas logo,” a hat that was “identical” to one that a man was seen wearing in surveillance footage. Investigators appear to have obtained the footage from the South Milledge Avenue area around the time of the slaying.

Diego Ibarra, when approached by the officer, was said to have told the cop that he had no identification, but pointed “to a University of Georgia food services employee nametag, which read ‘Diego.’” Details emerged in court Thursday that, at some point, he worked as a dishwasher at the Tate Student Center.

He was arrested after he went to his apartment and retrieved for police a phony green card, which the officer “immediately recognized” as counterfeit “due to its poor quality” and because it bore a pair of different birthdates, prosecutors stated in their memorandum of facts.

They further noted that, when Diego Ibarra was captured illegally entering the United States along the Texas border on April 3, 2023, he was taken back to Mexico that day. Twenty-seven days later, prosecutors said, a pair of Border Patrol agents near El Paso encountered him and another man who had crossed back into Texas illegally. The second man was said to have punched one of the agents in the face.

“Ibarra resisted the (other) agent’s efforts and grabbed his ... radio and threw it into a nearby yard,” prosecutors stated. “At one point, Ibarra tried to bite the agent.”

After he was subdued, Diego Ibarra, according to language in the agent’s report, admitted to resisting arrest and trying to avoid being caught “at any cost.”

The man who’d been with him later pleaded guilty to charges of assault on a federal officer and improper entry. Diego Ibarra was not prosecuted. Instead, on May 11, 2023, he was released after being placed in ICE’s Alternatives to Detention program — which required the ankle monitor.

Two weeks later, he was listed as an absconder when authorities said they learned he had cut off the monitor. The GPS-tracked device was found on a roadside south of Denver, Colorado.

Within four months, Diego Ibarra was in Athens.

On Sept. 24, 2023, he was pulled over in a blue sedan after police said he was doing 80 mph in a 40-mph zone. He was charged with DUI and other infractions after reportedly telling cops he had seven beers. Blood tests revealed no alcohol but showed positive results for methamphetamine and THC, prosecutors said.

Officials said he was released from jail but did not appear in court when he was supposed to and a warrant for his arrest was issued.