Given all the evidence against him, the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera for the killing of Mollie Tibbetts looked like an open an shut case. But it turns out police made a serious procedural error when questioning Rivera, one that they have now admitted. When Rivera was first questioned on the night of August 20, 2018, he was not read a full version of his Miranda rights. Defense attorneys are seeking to have his confession thrown out.
At about 11:30 p.m., Bahena Rivera was detained and was read a partial version of a Miranda warning for the first time, court records show. Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Trent Vileta said this decision was made after blood that matched Tibbetts’s DNA was found in the Malibu’s trunk.
Bahena Rivera led law enforcement to Tibbetts’s body early the next morning.
Her running clothes and tennis shoes were found with her, but no phone, Fitbit or “murder weapon” was located, Kivi said.
After her body was found, Kivi said, Bahena Rivera was taken back to a vehicle, where a Spanish-speaking officer read him his Miranda rights for a second time, this time in full…
State attorneys last month filed court documents in which they conceded that the initial Miranda warning given to Bahena Rivera around 11:30 p.m. on Aug. 20, 2018, was incomplete because the officer “inadvertently” failed to inform Bahena Rivera that anything he said could be used against him in court at a later time.
Here’s what Rivera confessed during his initial questioning:
Authorities have said that Bahena Rivera led them to Tibbetts’ body in the early morning hours of his arrest after telling police that he chased the young jogger after driving past her the evening she disappeared. She threatened to call police, at which point he said he got mad and “blocked his memory.” Bahena Rivera admitted to then finding her body in his trunk, which he took to a field and covered with corn leaves.
After a long night of questioning, Rivera led police to his house and from there he drove them to a spot in a cornfield where he told them he had placed Tibbetts’ body. When police initially looked, they couldn’t find the body so they asked Rivera to show them. He then got out of the vehicle and led them directly to Tibbetts’ body. It was only after that that he was finally read his Miranda rights in full.
The defense appears to be arguing that not just Rivera’s confession should be thrown out but the discovery of the body as well. Prosecutors and police are countering by arguing that Tibbetts’ body would have been found eventually once farmers had collected their crops. In fact several farmers apparently called police, concerned that they would be the ones to discover her body during the harvest.
As mentioned, police and prosecutors have already admitted they failed to read the Miranda warning initially and agreed that at least part of Rivera’s confession should be excluded from the trial. However, even without that, they still have the fact that he was seen driving near her the night she disappeared and the fact that her blood was found in the back of his truck.
Rivera’s trial is currently set for February, 2020.