Cristhian Bahena Rivera found guilty of first-degree murder in 2018 killing of Mollie Tibbetts

·3 min read

Cristhian Bahena Rivera was convicted of first-degree murder Friday, nearly three years after Mollie Tibbetts disappeared while jogging near her Brooklyn, Iowa, home.

Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, went out for a run on July 18, 2018, and disappeared. The search for her drew national attention and kicked off a monthlong manhunt, which ended when Bahena Rivera, a Mexican national who is now 26, allegedly led investigators to the rural cornfield where they found her remains.

Over the course of the two-week trial, jurors heard that investigators identified Bahena Rivera's car circling in the area where Tibbetts was last seen, and that during a marathon police interview he admitted to following Tibbetts, whom he found "hot." He allegedly fought with her and then, he said, he blacked out, later realizing he had Tibbetts' bloodied body in his trunk. He said he carried her body to the cornfield and covered it with cornstalks. Forensic experts found smears of blood with Tibbetts' DNA in his trunk.

From 2018: She's nurturing. She's a Harry Potter fan. We all know Mollie Tibbetts' face, but her friends and family say she's so much more.

The mandatory sentence in Iowa for first-degree murder is life in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 15.

During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutor Scott Brown displayed to the jury a photo of a smiling Tibbetts and recounted the state's timeline of her final moments: "She crossed paths with him, and it ended her life," he said, pointing at the defendant. "She was attacked brutally by him. She was stabbed repeatedly by him. Can you imagine what that was like for her?"

"Five weeks, her body lay in that cornfield," Brown said in his closing, which lasted just over an hour. "And you know who knew about that? One man. One man knew. And he is here. His name is Cristhian Bahena Rivera."

Repeatedly, he stressed that evidence pointed to Bahena Rivera, and nobody else, as Tibbetts’ killer. His motives, Brown argued, were anger at her reaction, and sexual desire. Brown noted Tibbetts' body was found partially unclothed, her shorts and underwear some distance away.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera hears the verdict of guilty on the charge of murder in the first degree in the killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts on Friday, May 28, 2021, at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera hears the verdict of guilty on the charge of murder in the first degree in the killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts on Friday, May 28, 2021, at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa.

The other alleged people of interest identified by the defense were "possibilities," Brown said. "But what's the evidence in the case that they're associated? Really none," he said.

Defense attorneys pointed the jury toward several other possible suspects, including Tibbetts' boyfriend, Dalton Jack. On Wednesday, Bahena Rivera took the stand in his own defense and admitted leaving Tibbetts' body in the field, but denied killing her. Instead, he said, two armed, masked men came to his home and forced him to drive them to the rural road where one of them killed Tibbetts, then ordered him to take the body to the cornfield.

The jury should have "serious doubts" about the state's case, attorney Chad Frese said.

"It’s not your job to right a wrong," he told jurors. "It’s not your job to impart vengeance. It’s not your job to bring justice for Mollie. She deserves justice, absolutely, but it’s your job to do justice, full stop."

The jury received the case for deliberations at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. They broke for the day shortly before 5 p.m. and resumed deliberating at 8:30 a.m. Friday, finally reaching a verdict shortly after their lunch break. Deliberations lasted Friday, after deliberating for a total of 7 hours, 16 minutes.

William Morris covers courts for the Des Moines Register. He can be contacted at wrmorris2@registermedia.com, 715-573-8166 or on Twitter at @DMRMorris.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Mollie Tibbetts verdict: Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty of murder

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting