CRISTHIAN Rivera has been found guilty of murder for stabbing jogger Mollie Tibbetts and now faces life behind bars.
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.»
‘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.
WHO IS ULISES FELIX?
Mollie Tibbetts’ mother took in Ulises Felix.
According to the Chicago Tribune, his family was originally from Mexico.
Felix’s parents worked alongside an undocumented immigrant named Cristhian Bahena Rivera.
Rivera has since been found guilty of Tibbetts’ murder.
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.
SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY SPEAKS ON VERDICT
WHEN WILL CRISTHIAN BAHENA RIVERA BE SENTENCED?
Rivera will remain in the state’s custody until sentencing as he’s now facing life in prison.
Sentencing is due to take place at 9.30am on July 15, 2021, in Montezuma, Iowa.
DOES IOWA HAVE THE DEATH PENALTY?
Capital punishment in the state of Iowa has been abolished since 1965.
However, some Iowa lawmakers are trying to reinstitute the death penalty in The Hawkeye State.
The proposal would bring it back under a very limited scope, only applying to people convicted of the crime of murdering a child, sexually assaulting a child and kidnapping a child.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee in Iowa took up the proposal in January 2021.
WHAT HAPPENED TO MOLLIE TIBBETTS?
Tibbetts was stabbed seven to 12 times in the chest, ribs, neck, and skull, according to her autopsy.
About 34 feet away from where her body was discovered, graphic images shown in court depict a pair of black shorts, a possible headband, and «striped» underwear seemingly belong to Tibbetts.
Tibbetts vanished on Thursday, July 19, 2018 after going on her routine jog.
She was last seen near America’s Highway of Death moments after sending her boyfriend a Snapchat selfie.
Her body was found on August 21 following a month-long search for her, sparking a national outcry from family and volunteers.
TIBBETTS’ COUSIN DIDN’T WANT TRIAL TO ‘PROMOTE RACISM’
A person who identified themselves as Mollie Tibbetts’ cousin said on Twitter that the family just wants “justice” in the case.
“Don’t use my cousin’s death and this trial as a way to promote a racist stereotype and ideology about immigrants from the border,” ronankm16 wrote.
“All we want is justice.”
WHO IS CHRISTIAN BAHENA RIVERA?
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
According to his Facebook page, Rivera is from Guayabillo, a community of fewer than 500 people in the Mexican state of Guerrero – around three hours’ drive from the resort city of Acapulco.
Investigators zeroed in on Rivera after obtaining footage from surveillance cameras in Brooklyn.
The footage showed a Chevy Malibu connected to Rivera driving back and forth as Tibbetts was running in the area.
RIVERA COVERED MOLLIE’S BODY IN CORN STALKS AS ‘ACT OF KINDNESS’
Rivera claimed the two mystery men put something in his trunk, and then again entered the car and told him to drive to a remote spot.
Once they were in a barren enough location, he said they told him to kill the engine and wait for a few minutes before leaving, the AP reported.
If he were to ever squeal about what happened, Rivera testified that they told him they would harm his ex-girlfriend and young daughter.
When the men disappeared on foot, he said he popped the trunk and found Mollie’s body.
The young man then allegedly lugged her body to a cornfield, according to the AP.
That’s where he decided to blanket her body with corn stalks in what he described as being a gesture of kindness.
“I didn’t want her to be too exposed to the sun,” according to the AP.
TRIAL WAS MOVED
Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s trial was moved about 100 miles from Poweshiek County to Scott County after defense lawyers said residents around the small town of Brooklyn had strong opinions about their client’s guilt.
Legal experts said ensuring a fair trial for Rivera would be difficult.
He has remained behind bars since his arrest in August of 2018.
MOLLIE’S BOYFRIEND ADMITTED TO CHEATING IN THE PAST
Rivera’s attorneys tried to arouse questions about Tibbett’s boyfriend Dalton Jack.
Jack, 23, now an Army sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, admitted he cheated on Tibbetts once in the past.
“I was 19 years old, it was the beginning of our relationship, I screwed up one time. Mollie knew about it and we got past it,” Jack said under questioning during the trial.
Police already scratched the idea of Jack being a suspect after establishing he had an alibi while working out of town on the day she was suspected of being killed.
UNANIMOUS VOTE FOUND RIVERA GUILTY
The 12-member jury unanimously found Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Mollie Tibbetts, who is remembered as a friendly 20-year-old who was studying to become a child psychologist.
Bahena Rivera, who came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico as a teenager, will be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Judge Joel Yates ordered Bahena Rivera, who has been in custody since his August 2018 arrest, to be held without bond pending a July 15 sentencing hearing.
WHERE DID MOLLIE TIBBETTS GO TO SCHOOL?
Mollie Tibbetts, 20, was a college student at the University of Iowa, majoring in psychology.
She worked at a children’s day camp at Grinnell Regional Medical Center and was preparing for her sophomore year in college when she disappeared.
Her goal was reportedly to become a child psychologist.
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.
VERDICT CAME AFTER TWO WEEKS OF TRIAL
The verdict came after a two-week trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, in a case that fueled public anger against illegal immigration and concerns about random violence against women.
The jury, which included nine white members and three of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish descent, deliberated for seven hours on Thursday and Friday.
RUNDOWN ON THE TIBBETTS MURDER CASE
- Mollie Tibbetts, 20, was out running on July 18 when she disappeared, triggering a huge search in Brooklyn, Iowa
- A month-long manhunt ensued for the missing young woman
- Five weeks after her disappearance Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an illegal Mexican immigrant named, was arrested and charged with her murder
- Police found Rivera, 24, through CCTV which showed a Chevy Malibu connected to him driving around where Mollie was jogging
- He later told police that he got out of the car and starting running alongside Mollie, who threatened to call the cops
- Rivera, who later led police to where he dumped her in a corn field, said he blacked out, then came to as he was dragging her body out of the trunk
- He was found guilty on Friday of murdering Mollie after a two-week trial
WHEN DID RIVERA INITALLY CONFESS?
Mollie’s disappearance sparked a massive search involving hundreds of law enforcement and volunteers.
A deputy later spotted the farmhand driving in the town in the Chevy Malibu spotted in the area.
Investigators interviewed Rivera at the dairy farm where he was working and he initially denied involvement in her death.
After hours of interrogation, he confessed to approaching Tibbetts as she ran, killing her in a panic when she threatened to call the cops, and hiding her body in a cornfield.
RIVERA DEFENCE ATTORNEY SAID POLICE «CUT CORNERS»
Rivera’s defense attorney Chad Frese claimed that police «cut corners» in their investigation, making Rivera the only suspect.
Frese questioned why police did not further investigate Dalton Jack, Tibbett’s boyfriend, as they could have tested Jack’s DNA or reviewed his phone records, but didn’t.
«Why on earth would you not take Dalton Jack’s DNA?» Frese asked. «Would that DNA have excluded Dalton Jack? We don’t know because we cut that corner. We just wrote him off right away.»
Jack had an alibi on the day Tibbetts disappeared. He was working out of town.
The defense also said investigators never confirmed exactly where Tibbetts was killed. They also did not find a proven murder weapon; two knives they tested for blood came back negative.
DEFENSE ATTORNEY REACTS TO VERDICT
“Miss Tibbetts was someone that did not deserve to be a victim, the fact that this woman went out on a run and ended up in a cornfield is just bizarre on its own.
“She’s not the type of peorson who would be hurtful, I think her choice, even if she thought something bad, would be to be kind,” Jennifer Frese said.
‘IT’S LIKE TRYING TO PROVE THERE’S NOT A SANTA CLAUSE’
When asked whether or not Rivera’s defense attorney was able to locate the “two masked men” that he claimed killed Mollie Tibbetts, a lawyer said: “it’s like trying to prove there’s not a Santa Clause.”
“Remember our client was really out in the middle of a very rural location,” Chad Frese said.
“We tried to link it up the best we could with people we thought would have a motive… but that’s very difficult to establish.”
WHAT SENTENCE IS CRISTHIAN RIVERA FACING?
Cristhian Rivera has been found guilty of first-degree murder.
In the state of Iowa, this charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
He will be sentenced on July 15, according to ABC9.
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.
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.