Mollie Tibbetts murder trial: Jury finds Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty

Verdict reached in Mollie Tibbetts case

Jurors in the trial of an illegal immigrant charged with the brutal 2018 murder of Mollie Tibbetts found Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder on Friday in a case that drew national attention because of the suspect’s immigration status. 

The verdict was announced Friday afternoon after a two-week trial in Davenport, Iowa, in which Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 26, faced the first-degree murder charge for which he was convicted.

Jurors reached their decision after deliberating for just over seven and a half hours.

Excluding the alternates, the jurors ranged in age from 19 to 71. The panel was made up of five females and seven males, of which three were of Hispanic descent and nine were White.

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, which is a mandatory sentence upon conviction. He will be held without bond pending a July 15 sentencing hearing.

Defense attorneys Chad and Jennifer Frese said they plan to appeal the jury’s decision.

During closing arguments, prosecutors urged the jury to convict Bahena Rivera, 26, for the death of the University of Iowa student, citing “overwhelming evidence” that tied him to the killing.

The defense rested its case Wednesday after Bahena Rivera testified that two men killed Tibbetts and forced him to transport her body in his car. 

Prosecutor Scott Brown called Bahena Rivera’s testimony “a figment of his imagination.” He argued that Bahena Rivera drove past Tibbetts, 20, as she was running on July 18, 2018 in Brooklyn, Iowa and made advances towards her. 

When she rebuffed him, he got angry, Brown said. 

“The way he reacts with that anger is to stab this young woman to death and to dump her body in a cornfield,” he told the jury. 

Cristhian Bahena Rivera listens to court proceedings in his trial on Monday in the Scott County Courthouse, in Davenport, Iowa. Defense lawyers argued that Bahena Rivera is a hard-working, family-centered immigrant from Mexico who was pressured into making a false confession in connection with the death of Mollie Tibbetts in July 2018. (Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP, Pool)

Defense lawyer Chad Frese said his client gave authorities a false confession that was coerced. He noted that investigators never found a murder weapon or produced witnesses showing where Tibbetts was killed. 

The defense painted Bahena Rivera as a hard-working immigrant from Mexico who crossed the border illegally as a teenager in search of a better life and who was pressured into confessing to the slaying. 

Frese said Bahena Rivera had no history of violence and worked to avoid police, given that he was living in the country illegally. He said it made no sense that his client would be “brazen enough to pick up a woman, abduct her and maybe kill her in a span of 10 to 20 minutes.”

“Folks this was planned, not by him but by someone else,” Frese said.

In this September 2016 photo provided by Kim Calderwood, Mollie Tibbetts poses for a picture during homecoming festivities at BGM High School in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. (Kim Calderwood via AP)

On Thursday, prosecutors called a rebuttal witness to establish an alibi for Tibbetts’ boyfriend, Dalton Jack, who the defense suggested was involved in the murder. 

Frese, the defense lawyer, said investigators did not look thoroughly into Jack. He noted Jack sent Tibbetts a text message within minutes of when she disappeared saying that his cellular “data straight up won’t work.”

“That’s a suspicious text if I have ever seen one, folks,” he said. “It sounds like someone trying to cover his tracks.”

Jack’s former supervisor, Nick Wilson, testified that Jack was working on a bridge in Dubuque about an hour before the killing. After work, Jack then grilled and drank beer with other co-works at a hotel that evening. Dubuque is more than a two-hour drive from Brooklyn. 

Fox News’ Melissa Chrise contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.

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