IOWA CITY, IA – Cristhian Bahena Rivera has been sentenced to life in prison without parole for the abduction and murder of Molly Tibbetts, three years after the University of Iowa student disappeared while out jogging.
A farmworker has been sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility for parole for first-degree murder in the abduction and fatal stabbing of college student Mollie Tibbetts in July 2018. https://t.co/VGDM8ai2P7
— CNN (@CNN) August 31, 2021
Judge Joel Yates sentenced Rivera under mandatory sentencing guidelines for a first-degree murder conviction.
Rivera, a self-identified illegal alien from Mexico who came to the United States as a teen to work as a farmhand, has been held in custody since his arrest in August 2018.
The defense tried to create doubt about his guilt by suggesting others were responsible for the co-ed’s death including Tibbetts’ boyfriend and a local police officer, but Judge Yates disagreed:
“Mr. Bahena Rivera, you and you alone forever changed the lives of those who loved Mollie Tibbetts.”
Tibbetts vanished while out for a jog in Brooklyn, IA on July 18, 2018. Family and friends became concerned when she did not show up for her summer job at a local daycare center.
Hundreds of volunteers aided police with searches for weeks, but Tibbetts was not located.
Police focused on Rivera after they observed surveillance video of his Chevy Malibu repeatedly driving by Tibbetts as she jogged that night.
In an interview with police following his arrest, Rivera admitted he followed Tibbetts on her evening run the night she was killed. He claimed he became angered by her when she asked him to leave her alone or she would call the police. Rivera claimed he then “blacked out.”
In May, Bahena Rivera was found guilty of first-degree murder of 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. https://t.co/bEzEaRAGVG
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) August 30, 2021
Rivera told the police that when his “blackout” ended, he found a bleeding Tibbets in the trunk of his car. He then buried her in an Iowa cornfield.
Following the interview, Rivera led police to her grave.
The Iowa State Medical Examiner determined that Tibbets died of “homicide resulting from multiple sharp force injuries.”
During the sentencing, Tibbitt’s mother addressed Rivera in a victim’s impact statement:
“Mollie was a young woman who simply wanted to go for a quiet run on the evening of July 18 and you chose to violently and sadistically end that life.”
The judge presiding over the sentencing of Cristhian Bahena Rivera said "you and you alone forever changed the lives of those who loved Mollie Tibbetts and for that, you and you alone will receive the following sentence.” https://t.co/tg6sxJ7cAI
— KCRG-TV9 (@KCRG) August 31, 2021
The murder became a poster case for the U.S. immigration debate. During a 2018 rally in Charleston, West Virginia, Then-President Donald Trump said the murder should not have happened because Rivera should not have been in the country:
“You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico. And you saw what happened to that incredible, beautiful, young woman.
“Should have never happened, illegally in our country. We’ve had a huge impact, but the laws are so bad, the immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting it changed but we have to get more Republicans.”
GOOD NEWS: Cristhian Bahena Rivera sentenced to life of Mollie Tibbetts pic.twitter.com/EZuTJNxk3h
— Neo Jane (@NeoJane8) August 30, 2021
Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds spoke out at the time on Twitter:
“Over the past month, thousands of Iowans searched and prayed for Mollie’s safe return. Now, we are called to come together once again to lift up a grieving family. The search for Mollie is over, but the demand for justice has just begun.
“As Iowans, we are heartbroken, and we are angry. We are angry that a broken immigration system allowed a predator like this to live in our community, and we will do all we can bring justice to Mollie’s killer.”
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Illegal immigrant found guilty of stabbing Mollie Tibbetts to death (after CNN described him as a ‘farm worker’)
May 28, 2021
DAVENPORT, IA – Following a two-week trial, the 26-year-old illegal immigrant accused of fatally stabbing Mollie Tibbetts back in 2018 was found guilty of first-degree murder on May 28th.
JUST IN: Illegal immigrant Cristhian Rivera convicted of Mollie Tibbetts' murder https://t.co/3G4Qkj8bLE
— Fox News (@FoxNews) May 28, 2021
On May 28th, the jury delivered a guilty verdict for 26-year-old illegal immigrant Cristhian Bahena Rivera, which CNN described in their report as a “farm worker” when sharing the news of him being found guilty for abducting and killing 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts back in July of 2018.
The jury in the trial reportedly deliberated for roughly three hours on May 27th and four hours on the 28th before rendering the guilty verdict.
Farm worker . . . Nice touch.
— Preston Light (@PrestonLight2) May 28, 2021
Rivera was noted as having stood inside the courtroom and “nodded slightly” when the guilty verdict was read aloud.
It was on July 18th of 2018 when Tibbetts went for a jog in Brooklyn, Iowa and never wound up returning home. Her then-thought disappearance sparked an extensive search and wound up gaining national attention.
Yet, the search for Tibbetts at the time was beginning to grow cold – until surveillance footage was discovered a month later that showed the silhouette of a woman running where a black Chevy Malibu was seen following the woman running.
That Chevy Malibu was later discovered to belong to Rivera, which led authorities to bringing him in for an interrogation.
The convicted murderer had admitted to authorities back in August of 2018 that he had followed Tibbetts as she was going for a jog and had confessed to getting mad at her and then blacking out from there on.
Rivera had proclaimed during that August 2018 interview with authorities that he had suddenly came to, later finding Tibbetts in the trunk of his car bleeding and left her body in a cornfield. A report from the Iowa State Medical Examiner’s Office found Tibbetts died as a result of multiple stab wounds.
Following the aforementioned admission to authorities, Rivera was arrested and charged with her murder.
A preliminary autopsy on Mollie Tibbetts' body determined that her death was a homicide resulting from multiple sharp force injuries, the Iowa State Medical Examiner said https://t.co/GFnkTkZxNV pic.twitter.com/roJl1IsmHf
— CNN (@CNN) August 23, 2018
When Rivera took the stand on May 26th, he relayed a fairly different version of events than what he’d proclaimed back in August of 2018 to authorities.
Throughout his testimony, Rivera alleged that two mysterious men kidnapped him and forced him to participate in murdering Tibbetts, with these masked men allegedly threatening him and his family if he didn’t comply and remain silent.
During the closing arguments, prosecutor Scott Brown said that Rivera’s claims of two masked men were a complete fabrication, pointing out that there’s no such evidence to come close to substantiating that claim:
“There weren’t two other guys. That’s a figment of his imagination. All of the credible evidence in this case points at him.”
Brown said that the reality of the situation was that Rivera made advances toward Tibbetts as she was jogging, and when she rejected him, he became angry and murdered her.
Chad Frese, Rivera’s defense attorney during the trial, relied heavily on the prosecution not having located the murder weapon used to kill Tibbetts, as well as no witnesses to the actual killing or locating the precise scene of her murder.
Attempts were also made by the defense during the trial to portray Rivera as a hard-working immigrant who came to the United States (illegally) in search of a better life and somehow got coaxed into essentially confessing to murder.
Clearly, that defense strategy didn’t work out too well.
Sentencing will be July 15 and he faces life in prison without parole. pic.twitter.com/XaUGbc6Cad
— Curtis Houck (@CurtisHouck) May 28, 2021
After the guilty verdict was reached in court, both Chad and Jennifer Frese noted that they were “disappointed” with the jury’s decision and that they planned to file an appeal.
However, Chad Frese also conceded that the case against his client was one deemed to be “difficult” to beat considering Rivera had Tibbetts’ DNA in the trunk of his car and led investigators to her body:
“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.”
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