Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, decided to go out jogging on Wednesday, July 18, 2018, when she disappeared. The search for her garnered national attention and started a month-long search that concluded when Bahena Rivera, now 26, a Mexican illegal alien, allegedly led investigators to a rural cornfield where they discovered her remains.
During the two-week trial, jurors listened as investigators identified Rivera’s vehicle circling the area where Mollie Tibbetts was last seen. During a police interview is when Rivera admitted that he followed Tibbetts because he thought she was “hot.” Then he allegedly fought with her and then he said he blacked out and later discovered he had her bloody body in his trunk. He then carried her lifeless body into the cornfield and covered her with cornstalks. Blood was found in Rivera’s trunk with DNA that matched Tibbetts’ DNA.
This defendant came up with that cockamamy story and thankfully the jury saw right through it. The fact that the jury came back with a verdict so quickly meant they understood all along that Rivera was guilty of first-degree murder.
The defense team waived their opening statement. Law professors across the world advise their students that you never, ever waive the opening statement, but they had nothing to help their client.
On Thursday, during closing arguments, the prosecutor Scott Brown showed the jury a photo of a smiling Tibbetts and then went over the state’s timeline of her last moments alive. “She crossed paths with him, and it ended her life,” Brown said, pointing at the defendant, Rivera. “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 during the closing, which ran for a little 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.”
Brown reminded the jury repeatedly that the evidence all pointed at Rivera and no one else as Tibbetts’ killer. The prosecutor argued that Rivera’s motives were anger at her reaction to him hitting on her and sexual desire. He pointed out that Tibbetts’ body was partially unclothed when her body was found. Her underwear and shorts were a distance away.
Brown said that other people who were alleged to be of interest that the defense offered were indeed possibilities, “But what’s the evidence in the case that they’re associated? Really none.”
Rivera’s lawyers tried to get the jury to believe there were several other possible suspects, one of them being Tibbetts’ own boyfriend, Dalton Jack.
Rivera took the stand in his own defense on Wednesday and admitted to dropping Tibbetts’ body in the middle of the cornfield, but he denied killing her. Did he expect the jury to believe that he was doing a solid for someone? Was he doing a supposed civic duty by cleaning a dead body off the streets and putting it in the cornfield? No, he argued that there were two armed masked men who went to his home, ordered him to drive them to the rural road where he watched one of them kill Tibbetts, and then they forced him to take the body to the cornfield. Yeah, and I’m Mary, Queen of Scotts. #SMH
Chad Frese, one of the defense attorneys, said that the jury should have “serious doubts” about the state’s case. Thankfully, the jury knew he was gaslighting.
“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.”
And as it turns out, the jury did justice. Full stop.
The case was handed over to the jury by 1:30 pm on Thursday. They left for the day just before 5 pm. They resumed their deliberations by 8:30 am Friday and reached their verdict a little after their lunch break. They deliberated for a total of 7 hours and 16 minutes.
Rivera is looking at a mandatory sentence for first-degree murder in the state of Iowa of life in prison.
Sentencing will take place at 9:30 am on July 15 in Poweshiek County.