Cristhian Bahena Rivera appeared in court today where he pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder of college student Mollie Tibbetts. From the Des Moines Register:
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, appeared before District Court Judge Joel Yates at the Poweshiek County (Iowa) Courthouse, where his charge was formally read to him.
He said little, listening through headphones as the hearing was translated into Spanish. Speaking through an interpreter, he confirmed his lawyer’s statement that he would enter the not guilty plea.
Bahena Rivera also waived his right to have a trial within 90 days. Yates scheduled his trial for April 16, 2019.
In case you’ve forgotten some of the details here, a neighborhood video camera captured a car following Tibbetts as she was out jogging. That car later led investigators to Rivera who a) admitted he had followed Tibbetts in his car and then on foot, b) claimed he blacked out when she threatened to call police, but c) admitted removing Tibbetts body from the trunk of the car, and finally d) led police to her body in a cornfield. An autopsy concluded she had been murdered by sharp force trauma, i.e. being stabbed multiple times.
Given all the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, why would Rivera plead not guilty? Why not offer to plead guilty in exchange for, say, some consideration in sentencing. According to the Register, lawyers not connected to the case have a theory about where the defense may be heading:
Frese declined to discuss the defense strategy he will pursue at trial, but defense attorneys unconnected to the case have said one possibility is that Bahena Rivera’s claim of memory loss — if it can be documented — could open the door to the defense of diminished responsibility. That defense would require Bahena Rivera to admit to killing Tibbetts, but argue that due to his mental state he was not able to form the intent to kill her that prosecutors must prove for a first-degree murder charge.
Rivera has already all but admitted he killed Tibbetts but now he’s trying to dodge the element of intent necessary for a murder charge by claiming he doesn’t remember wanting her dead. It sounds as if he’s going to claim this was a crime of passion based on his panic over her calling the police.
I’m not an attorney which is probably why this defense just sounds like a scam to me. Rivera was stalking Tibbetts. He (allegedly) killed her by stabbing her multiple times. Maybe he could argue this wasn’t first-degree murder because he didn’t set out to kill her when he started following her, but I don’t see how she winds up dead in his trunk without some malice on his part during the interim blackout period.
And that’s really the best case because it’s still very possible he’s just lying about the whole blackout. He’s been lying to his employer for years about his own name, after all. His credibility is pretty limited.