Mollie Tibbetts murder trial verdict – ‘Cold-blooded killer’ Cristhian Rivera guilty of jogger’s frenzied stabbing death
CRISTHIAN Bahena Rivera was described as a “cold-blooded killer” after he was found guilty of the frenzied stabbing murder of Mollie Tibbetts in 2018.
Former homicide detective Ted Williams reportedly told Fox News that he was “overjoyed” with the verdict after a jury found Rivera guilty of killing the 20-year-old jogger on Friday.
On Thursday, prosecutors said Tibbetts had been “brutally attacked” by Rivera and noted that for “five weeks, her body lay in that cornfield” during closing arguments.
“And you know who knew about that? One man. One man knew. And he is here. His name is Cristhian Bahena Rivera,” said attorney Scott Brown.
An autopsy carried out on Mollie revealed she had been killed with a “sharp object” believed to be a knife up to 12 times – but Special Agent Trent Vileta said the weapon has not been discovered.
A decision was reached just after 1pm local time on Friday morning, after one day of deliberation. The jury was actively discussing the verdict for 7 hours, 16 minutes and 15 seconds.
Rivera stayed silent and showed little emotion as he was given the verdict, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
While questioned in a cornfield, Rivera allegedly told Iowa officer Pamela Romero that he followed Tibbetts in his car, got out and started running behind her.
The 26-year-old told cops that Mollie Tibbetts “tried to slap him and was screaming at him,” a cop has testified.
Rivera said that Tibbetts noticed him and tried to use her cell phone to call police.
“He said that Mollie tried to slap him and was screaming at him,” Romero testified. “Mr Rivera said this is when he became angry.”
Blood found in the suspect’s Chevy Malibu trunk “was a first match” for the slain student a forensics expert testified last week.
Tara Scott, a criminalist in the DNA section of Iowa’s crime lab, said she analyzed a swab taken from a blood stain found on the trunk seal after investigators recovered Tibbetts’ body.
“The profile I had from Mollie Tibbetts and the profile from that blood matched,” Scott testified. “They were exactly the same.”
Rivera, 26, has been charged with first-degree murder in Tibbetts’ stabbing death. He has pleaded not guilty.
Tibbetts, 20, vanished while out running on July 18, 2018, in Brooklyn, Iowa.
Investigators recovered her partially naked, decomposing body from a cornfield a month later.
During the interrogation, Rivera led police to the cornfield where her body was found, telling them, “I brought you here, didn’t I? So that means that I did it.”
The defense, who presented the interrogation video as evidence, argued that Rivera appeared to be asleep during part of the questioning.
Pamela Romero, who interrogated Rivera, said on the witness stand that she was not aware Rivera was asleep, but a look at the interrogation transcript showed she had told the accused man, “You fell asleep.”
DECISION TO HAVE RIVERA TESTIFY WAS NOT “DIFFICULT”
Chad Frese, Rivera’s defense attorney, said the decision to have Rivera take the witness stand “wasn’t as difficult as a lot of people want to make it sound.”
Rivera’s testimony “was exactly the version of events he told us going back to August 2018.”
“Anytime you have a client who gives a statement like he did, and the fact that there was DNA evidence in the trunk and the fact that he led them to the body, it makes it extraordinarily difficult,” Frese said.
JUROR SAYS VERY “EMOTIONAL” TO REACH VERDICT
Juror Robert Reed said the jury had a difficult time getting to the guilty verdict.
“I think especially for a lot of us, it was very emotional,” he said.
“What we really had to do is put all of our emotions to the side. And that’s not what it was about.”
RIVERA’S DEFENSE ATTORNEYS BELIEVE HIS STATEMENTS TO POLICE WERE COERCED
Chad and Jennifer Frese were “disappointed” in today’s guilty verdict against their client Cristhian Bahena Rivera in the murder and disappearance of Mollie Tibbetts.
They said they will be appealing the decision and will renew their arguments that were said during the trial.
The Freses claimed Rivera’s comments to police were coerced and should be suppressed, along with the discovery of Tibbetts’ body.
DEFENSE ATTORNEYS WOULD HAVE ‘COME UP’ WITH BETTER ALIBI
Since 2018, Cristhian Bahena Rivera has claimed that two masked men were responsible for Mollie Tibbetts’ death and disappearance and has not changed his story since.
His defense attorney Jennifer Frese, who said she will be appealing today’s guilty verdict, said she did not coach Rivera into telling that story.
“We would have come up with something better than that,” she said.
‘WEIGHT OFF EVERYONE’S SHOULDERS’
Bart Klaver, one of the Poweshiek County Attorneys in the case against Cristhian Bahena Rivera, said the guilty verdict served justice to Mollie Tibbetts’ family.
The outcome was a “weight off of everyone’s shoulders,” he said.
Tibbetts’ relatives, including her mom, watching proceedings in a room across the street from the courtroom, which was closed to the public due to Covid-19 protocols.
EVIDENCE “DEMANDED” THE VERDICT
Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver, one of the prosecutors in the case, said the evidence overwhelmingly showed Cristhian Bahena Rivera was guilty of the crime.
“This was the verdict that the evidence demanded,” said Klaver after Rivera was found guilty of the disappearance and murder of Mollie Tibbetts.
He added such violent crime almost never happens in his county of 18,000 people.
WHEN DID MOLLIE TIBBETTS FIRST GO MISSING?
Mollie Tibbetts went missing during her routine jog in Brooklyn, Iowa on July 18, 2018.
She was caring for her boyfriend’s dogs prior to her disappearance.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera was identified as a suspect a month later after surveillance video revealed a dark Chevy Malibu appearing to circle Tibbetts as she ran.
HOW DID RIVERA REACT TO THE VERDICT?
ABC News reported that Rivera nodded his head slightly when the verdict was read.
Rivera was wearing headphones throughout the trial to translate what was being said into Spanish.
DEMOGRAPHICS OF THE JURY
The jury at Rivera’s trial found him guilty of first-degree murder today in the case of Mollie Tibbett’s death.
The jury consisted of seven men and five women between the ages of 19 to 71.
Three of the jurors are Latino, Spanish, or Hispanic and the others are white.
MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST ‘NOT SURPRISED’ BY VERDICT
Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor, and a MSNBC Legal Analyst was not surprised that Rivera was found guilty.
“He led them to the body and he confessed that he blacked out down the critical time and he was on the video stalking her, circling her in his car. All those things together” made for a strong case, Alksne said.
DEFENSE CLAIMS RIVERA TOLD THE SAME STORY SINCE 2018
During his trial, Rivera claimed that two men had forced him into their car and forced him to kill Mollie.
Rivera’s Defense Attorney Chad Frese supported this story, saying this was the same story he told police from the beginning.
“From the very first day we met Mr. Bahena the story he put forth on the stand was exactly the version of events that he told us going back to August 2018,” Frese said.
“He had never varied from that version of events, not one detail.”
RIVERA’S LAWYERS PLAN TO FILE AN APPEAL
A jury has found Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts almost three years after she went missing.
Rivera’s attorneys say they will file an appeal and take other options in the coming weeks.
TRUMP HIT OUT AT RIVERA
Former President Donald Trump once criticized convicted murderer Cristhian Bahena Rivera.
The undocumented immigrant was blasted by Trump as a criminal who exploited lax immigration laws.
He used Rivera as an example to push for harsher immigration policies ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
MOLLIE’S BOYFRIEND ‘DIDN’T LOCK THEIR DOOR’
Mollie was reportedly housesitting for her boyfriend Dalton Jack and his older brother Blake as they were out of town on separate construction jobs.
Jack recalled that he had tried to call her cellphone after she disappeared but got no answer so he went back to the house to “check on her.”
He noted that they didn’t lock their door so he went in and let the dog out of the basement before asking his neighbors if they had noticed anything unusual.
After failing to reach out to Mollie on social media, they called the cops.
RIVERA SAID COPS FORCED CONFESSION
After a lengthy interview in August 2018, Rivera allegedly admitted to cops that he had saw Tibbetts jogging, deemed her attractive, and decided to follow her by car and on foot.
He said she threatened to call police on him which made him angry and caused a struggle to ensue – before he allegedly told interviewers he “blacked out” and didn’t remember killing Tibbetts.
But he instead told the court this week two masked men were behind the attack, and said cops took advantage of his exhaustion after he had worked a 12-hour shift at Yarrabee Farms.
He said they offered him the “blackout” theory and told him something along the lines of: “People can be sick and they can forget things.”
Rivera said he only agreed to take them to Tibbetts’ body because, “For one, I was already very tired and I wanted it to stop.
“And, most importantly, they told me to put myself in the family’s position and to think, ‘If she was my daughter, what would I have done?’”
‘NOBODY SAW A DIFFERENCE’ IN RIVERA AFTER MURDER
“Nobody saw a difference” in Rivera’s demeanour after he killed Mollie Tibbetts, his former employer said.
Dane Lang, the manager of Yarrabee Farms, said he and his employees were shocked to find out Rivera was a suspect and was working under a different name.
“Our employee is not who he said he was,” Lang said at a news conference at the farm. “This was shocking to us.”
“He showed up every day and he did his job. He was patted on his back. They turned a blind eye to the reality of documentation,” Rivera’s defense attorney, Allan Richards said.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE FOR THE JURY TO REACH A VERDICT?
A decision was reached just after 2pm ET on the morning of May 28, after one day of deliberation.
The jury, made up of five women and seven men, was actively discussing the verdict for 7 hours, 16 minutes and 15 seconds.
Rivera showed little reaction when it was delivered after a two-week trial.
Prosecutors said they hoped the guilty verdict brought a “sense of justice” to Mollie Tibbetts family.
SURVEILLANCE FOOTAGE IS ‘REALLY IRREFUTABLE’
Prosecutor Scott Brown said that Rivera’s story of two men forcing him into their car was a “figment of imagination.”
The biggest piece of evidence in the case, according to Brown is footage of Rivera’s Malibu near the scene of the crime.
The video is “really irrefutable,” he said.
“It is the thing, the piece of evidence that the police followed that broke this case, and led them to more evidence and more evidence that the defendant was the one who committed Mollie Tibbetts’ murder.”
Brown argues that once he saw his car on the footage, he had to invent the story of the two men.
WHAT WAS THE REACTION TO RIVERA’S CASE?
Rivera, a father of one, was once blasted by Donald Trump as a criminal who exploited lax immigration laws and was used as an example by the former president as he pushed for harsher immigration policies ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
Defense lawyer Chad Frese said during jury selection that Rivera enjoys the same rights as US citizens and that his lack of English language skills could not be held against him.
The defendant participated in the trial through a Spanish-speaking interpreter.
His arrest inflamed anger over illegal immigration as Rivera entered the US illegally as a teenager, according to authorities.
WHAT DID CRISTHIAN BAHENA RIVERA TESTIFY?
Prior to his sentencing, Rivera testified at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport that two armed men wearing masks forced him at gunpoint to help kill Tibbetts.
He alleged that the pair showed up at his trailer home after he had finished showering and made him drive them in his car, according to the Associated Press.
While on the road, Rivera said the men spotted Tibbetts jogging and he said they directed him to hit the brakes, according to the AP.
After stopping, Rivera recalled how one of the men exited the car wielding a knife and headed down the rural road.
About 10 minutes passed before the second masked man got impatient and allegedly said, “Come on, Jack,” according to Rivera.
Rivera claimed the two men were complete strangers.
His attorneys tried to arouse questions about Tibbetts’ boyfriend Dalton Jack but police did not consider him a suspect after interrogating him and finding out he was working out of town at the time of her death.
Rivera claimed the two men put something in his trunk and urged him to drive to a remote spot.
The men allegedly threatened Rivera, according to him, saying that they would harm his ex-girlfriend and young daughter if he told anyone what happened.
When the men disappeared on foot, he said he popped the trunk and found Tibbetts’ body.
WHERE WAS MOLLIE’S BODY FOUND?
Former Officer Pamela Romero revealed how Rivera allegedly confessed to leaving Tibbetts’ body to rot in a corn field during proceedings.
Tibbetts’ remains were found about 400 feet from the road in the field near the town Guernsey and almost at the Iowa County line, with her bright running shoes visible.
The body was covered with bent corn stalks, wearing those sneakers, black socks, and a pink sports bra but not the Fitbit she had been carrying.
RIVERA KEPT COPY OF ‘MISSING’ POSTER IN CAR
Officer Pamela Romero said during testimony that Cristhian Rivera, who is accused of Mollie Tibbetts’ murder, allegedly told her he “kept a copy of the poster flier in his car.”
Romero also told the court that Rivera had allegedly admitted to seeing the jogger – who he described as “attractive” and “hot” – after being shown a still from a neighbor’s chilling video showing his car following her.
The former officer, who is bilingual, alleged that the Mexican national also confessed to flying into a rage and blacking out when he approached Tibbetts jogging, prompting her to scream, slap him, and try to call the cops.
‘COVERED BODY IN STALKS’
Rivera said he opened the trunk a few minutes later and found Tibbetts’ body, which he said was heavy as he carried it to the cornfield.
He said he covered her body with corn stalks because “I didn’t want her to be too exposed to the sun,” and that he then left and never planned to discuss what had happened again.
Bahena Rivera said he left Tibbetts’ phone, Fitbit and earbuds on the side of the road.
MOLLIE TIBBETTS AND DALTON JACK: BOYFRIEND THOUGHT SHE WAS ‘CUTE’
Mollie Tibbetts and Dalton Jack, who dated for three years before Mollie’s death, met in high school in Brooklyn, Iowa, in October 2015.
“I got her number right away. She made me laugh. And I’ll admit I thought she was cute,” Jack told Des Moines Register.
“I played football. I was a senior, she was a junior. After a game, my buddy and I were sitting in the pickup, and one of Mollie’s friends came over to talk to my buddy. So she joined us and came over to my window.”
Sadly, the romance ended when Tibbetts died in July 2018.