Guilty verdict in murder of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, accused of murdering University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts as she was jogging, has been found guilty by an Iowa jury.
Bahena Rivera, a 26-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was found guilty by the jury of first-degree murder for allegedly killing Tibbetts, 20, and hiding her body in a cornfield in the rural city of Brooklyn, Iowa, in July 2018.
Bahena Rivera nodded his head slightly when the verdict was read.
The jury deliberated for seven hours over Thursday and Friday and all were in agreement with the guilty verdict. In Iowa, the sentence for first-degree murder is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bahena Rivera’s sentencing will take place at 9:30 a.m. on July 15 in Poweshiek County. He was granted no bond pending sentencing.
“We’re disappointed,” defense attorney Chad Frese said following the verdict. “They certainly came to their decision. We’ll respect their decision. We’re explore our options and go from there.”
The case made national headlines as Tibbets’ disappearance sparked a monthlong search.
The Davenport, Iowa, courtroom heard two wildly contrasting theories of what happened to Tibbetts in the case.
In a shocking twist, Bahena Rivera, who speaks little English, testified in his own defense Wednesday, claiming he was kidnapped by two masked and armed men, who forced him to drive to where Tibbetts was jogging and one of them killed her and put her body in his car’s trunk.
But that story didn’t match the statements he told investigators during an Aug. 20, 2018 interview.
Spanish-speaking police officer, Pamela Romero, who was present for that interview, testified in the trial that Bahena Rivera implicated himself in Tibbetts’ death.
Romero testified that Bahena Rivera confessed that he did see Tibbetts that day, claiming he found her attractive and followed her. She said he stopped his car and began jogging alongside Tibbetts who threatened to call the police.
Anger is what motivated Bahena Rivera to stab Tibbetts nine to 12 times, Romero said in her testimony.
Prosecutor Scott Brown said during the trial that Bahena Rivera told Romero he “blacked out” and didn’t remember Tibbetts was in the trunk of his car until he looked down and saw her wireless earbud in his lap. In his testimony, Bahena Rivera admitted that he removed Tibbetts from his trunk and dumped her body in a cornfield.
Romero testified that after 11 hours of questioning, Bahena Rivera led investigators to the cornfield, where they found Tibbetts’ badly decomposed body about 500 feet down a row of tall corn, covered in leaves.
Prosecutor Scott Brown dismissed Bahena Rivera’s testimony as a “figment of his imagination” in his closing summation in the courtroom, pointing to evidence including surveillance video of his black Chevrolet Malibu circling the area where Tibbetts was running, her DNA found in the trunk of Bahena Rivera’s car and his earlier confession.
Defense attorney Frese argued that investigators “targeted” Rivera, and “cherry-picked facts” to fit their theory due to intense pressure to solve the case. In closing arguments Frese alleged that Romero and other investigators forced a “false confession” from Bahena Rivera.
Bahena Rivera had pleaded not guilty to the first-degree murder charge.
ABC News’ Bill Hutchinson contributed to this report
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