Video evidence, DNA analysis and a partial confession will be critical to proving a farm laborer stabbed a University of Iowa student to death while she was out for a run in 2018, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.
Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver said in his opening statement that he will ask them to find Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts.
He said a homeowner’s surveillance video will show Bahena Rivera’s black Chevy Malibu appearing to circle Tibbets as she ran on July 18, 2018, in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. Klaver said Bahena Rivera, now 26, later told police that he drove past her and turned around to get a second look because he thought she was “hot.”
Bahena Rivera also admitted that he got out of his car and ran to catch up with her, and became angry and fought with her after she threatened to call police, Klaver said. Bahena Rivera said the next thing he remembered was driving his Malibu with her bloody body in the trunk, which he then carried over his shoulder and hid underneath stalks in a cornfield, the prosecutor said.
Klaver said blood found on the trunk and trunk liner matched Tibbetts’ DNA, which was recovered from the body. He said an autopsy found that she had been stabbed from seven to 12 times in the chest, ribs, neck, and skull, and that she died from sharp force injuries.
Bahena Rivera’s defense team deferred their opening statement to later in the trial, which is expected to last two weeks at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport. After opening statements, prosecutors called their first witness — Blake Jack, the brother of Mollie Tibbetts’ boyfriend Dalton Jack, reports CBS station KCCI. Tibbetts had been dog-sitting at the Jack’s home before she was killed.
Defense attorney Jennifer Frese asked Jack on cross-examination whether his brother and Tibbetts had problems in their relationship because Dalton Jack had cheated on Tibbetts. Blake Jack said he wasn’t aware of any problems.
Dalton Jack then took the stand and described his three-year relationship with Tibbetts as prosecutors showed photos of the two together.
Bahena Rivera may have entered the U.S. from Mexico illegally a decade ago, and his arrest inflamed anger over illegal immigration, with then-President Donald Trump calling him a killer who exploited lax immigration laws and Iowa’s governor calling him a predator. The case also deepened anxieties about random violence against women.
The case is being livestreamed on Court TV and other media outlets.
Bahena Rivera faces life in prison without parole if convicted.
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