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Cristhian Bahena Rivera Convicted Of Mollie Tibbetts' Murder Despite These Theories His Defense Tried To Use

Photo: KCCI Des Moines
Cristhian Bahena Rivera

After deliberating for just seven hours, a jury in Davenport, Iowa has found Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a 26-year-old non-English-speaking farmworker, guilty of first degree murder in the abduction and killing of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbits.

On July 18, 2018, college student Tibbetts went missing after going for a jog near her home in Brooklyn, Iowa. Her body was later found in a cornfield, having stabbed somewhere between seven to 12 times, and badly decayed.

Rivera, a non-English-speaking undocumented immigrant from Mexico, led the police to her body nearly one month after she'd gone missing. After an 11-hour interrogation, he gave a confession to police, claiming he'd got angry, blacked out and found Tibbetts’ body in his trunk.

In his opening remarks Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver told the jury, “He admitted he had seen Mollie the night she disappeared… he admitted ‘she was hot,’ in his words ... He admitted to fighting with her… [and] taking her into the field and leaving her there, covering her with corn stalks.”

After the body was found, Rivera allegedly told Pamela Romero, a Spanish-speaking police officer that was working on the case, that “I brought you here, didn't I? So, that means that I did it. I don't remember how I did it.”

While Rivera originally claimed he typically doesn’t remember anything when he gets angry and that he must have blacked out, he went on to change his defense earlier this week.

Why did Cristhian Bahena Rivera's defense team say he was innocent of Mollie Tibbets' murder?

Rivera's defense team offered a surprising new version of what they say actually happened to Mollie Tibbets. Rivera, they say, was himself kidnapped by two masked men and then forced to take part in her abduction and murder, threatening his life if he didn't cooperate.

Considering there was DNA found at the scene that does not match either Rivera or Tibbetts, some believe this could have happened.

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He alleges that after they made him drive around to find Tibbetts, one of the men murdered her and put her body in his trunk, then told him to drive another 300 meters before ordering him to stop and hand over his keys.

“I got out of the car because I did not have my keys,” Rivera said. "Obviously, I knew there was something in the trunk because previously I had felt ... when they had put something in the trunk.”

“I picked her up and then I put her in the cornfield,” he continues, adding that he covered her with corn stalks “because I didn’t want to leave her ... I didn’t want her to be too exposed to the sun.”

Rivera claimed that he was too scared to contact the police at them, saying he feared being implicated in the crime and that the two men knew about his daughter and ex-girlfriend.

He also stated that he had lied to the police and gave a false confession because he was exhausted from 11 hours of interrogation following a 12-hour day working on a dairy farm, and that he felt pressured to agree with them and work with them however he could to protect himself.

“For one," he said, "I was already very tired and I wanted to stop. And most importantly they told me to put myself in the family's position and to think about if she was my daughter, what would I have done.”

"He didn't tell them that because it's not true," countered prosecutor Scott Brown.

Others believe Dalton Jack, Tibbetts' boyfriend, could have had something to do with her murder.

The defense also argued that police stopped working on the case one Rivera was identified as a suspect, and therefore they did not five adequate consideration to the potential involvement of Tibbetts' boyfriend, Dalton Jack.

The defendant’s team brought Jack, who had already testified on behalf of the prosecution, back to the stand for questioning.

Chad Frese, part of Rivera’s defense team, asked Jack, who had testified that Tibbetts had found out he was cheating on her and that she discussed breaking up with him a month before she was killed," if he had anything to do with the murder.

“I wouldn't harm her or any innocent person,” he responded.

Jack had been more than 100 miles away working at a construction job during the time of her disappearance.

Frese also asked Jack if he ever used “derogatory language toward Hispanics” and if there was anything wrong with his memory, raising the question of a racism-fueled framing attempt. The question was met by an objection from the prosecution, and went unanswered.

RELATED: Someone Created A New Mollie Tibbetts Facebook Profile And Claims She Ran Away To Be With A Man

Some believe that, because he is an undocumented immigrant, Rivera is being used both to close the case and uphold a certain narrative.

One of the biggest arguments from the defense is that the prosecution didn't conducting a thorough investigation, choosing instead to simply pin the murder on Rivera because he’s an easy target and they want to close out the case.

Jennifer Frese, Rivera’s lawyer, said, “There was an intense amount of pressure to arrest someone for this vicious crime,” adding that after her client’s interview, authorities stopped working the case.

Others have said Rivera was being used as a pawn to further former President Trump's agenda against immigrants.

The prosecution’s most powerful piece of evidence was a home surveillance video showing what appears to be Rivera's car, a black Chevy Malibu, circling the same area where Tibbetts’ could be seen jogging.

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice and relationships.