After years of delays, the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera for the murder of Mollie Tibbetts started today and is expected to last about two weeks.
“Ladies and gentlemen, when you examine this evidence together, there can be can be no other conclusion that the defendant killed Mollie Tibbetts,” [prosecutor Bart] Klaver told jurors in Davenport.
“And I’ll ask you to return a verdict, the only verdict that justice demands, that you find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree.”…
“He remembered Mollie being in the trunk, his admission of taking Mollie’s bloody body out of the trunk, putting her on his shoulder, taking her into the field and leaving her there, covering her with corn stalks,” Klaver said.
In case you’ve forgotten some of the details of this case, Mollie Tibbetts was a 20-year-old college student at the University of Iowa. Rivera was a 26-year-old undocumented dairy farm worker. Tibbetts disappeared in 2018 while out jogging and police later turned up home surveillance video showing a distinctive black Chevy with silver door handles that appeared to be following Tibbetts. They traced the car to Rivera who initially denied everything but later admitted to following Tibbetts in his car because he thought she was attractive.
Rivera was questioned four 11 hours and claimed his memory went blank at a certain point.
The next morning, Rivera and investigators went to a cornfield in rural Poweshiek County, where he allegedly admitted he had followed Tibbetts and jogged next to her. She had threatened to call the police, and Rivera admitted he got angry and fought with her, Klaver told the court.
“The next thing he remembers” was that he was driving and realized Tibbetts was in his trunk, Klaver said. Rivera allegedly admitted he took her bloody body out of the trunk, carried her into a field and placed corn stalks over her body, according to Klaver.
Her body was consequently found in that cornfield wearing the same multicolored running shoes from her jog, the prosecutor said. The Medical Examiner determined Tibbetts had been stabbed seven to 12 times. Blood matching her DNA was also found in the trunk of the vehicle, Klaver said.
All of this seems pretty open and shut but the confession was nearly thrown out because the police officer who acted as a translator during his questioning later admitted she had read Rivera his Miranda rights from memory and forgot the part about “anything you say can and will be used against you.”
The judge eventually reached a split decision on what would be admissible in the case. The blood evidence found in Rivera’s trunk was deemed admissible because he’d signed a Spanish language consent form for that. The eleven hours of questioning at the police station were deemed admissible because Rivera hadn’t been in custody during that time. The doors were unlocked and he still had his cell phone. However, police took Rivera into custody late that night when they got the results of the blood evidence from his car. That’s when the partial Miranda warning was issued. Everything from that point until shortly after Rivera led police to Tibbetts body (at which point he was given a second, full Miranda warning) was excluded.
Even so, the fact that Rivera admitted to following Tibbetts, that there is video showing his car following her that night and that her blood was found in his trunk ought to lead to a quick conviction.
Meanwhile, the defense is trying to suggest that Tibbetts boyfriend, who was 100 miles away on a construction job when she was murdered, could somehow be responsible.
During cross-examination, the defense sought to paint Dalton Jack as an unfaithful boyfriend with anger management issues. He admitted to struggling with anger as a teenager and that he had cheated on his girlfriend.
When asked by defense lawyer Chad Frese why he didn’t tell sheriff’s investigators about past cheating, Dalton Jack said: “I didn’t deem it necessary, I didn’t think it was pertinent to the case.”
He told prosecutors on the witness stand he’s confident detectives arrested the right man.
“I wholeheartedly believe he’s guilty,” said Dalton Jack, a 23-year-old U.S. Army sergeant based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with the 82nd Airborne Division.
Whether the jury can hear the full story or not because of the Miranda mistake, the rest of us know Rivera led police to Tibbetts body and his claim that his memory went blank and then he suddenly found her body in his car isn’t very convincing. Police have the right man and enough DNA evidence to prove it. The only thing missing is the murder weapon which Rivera presumably disposed of somewhere in the weeks after the crime before he was identified as a suspect.
The case is being streamed live on Court TV. The first couple hours are here. Here’s a live feed.