On Friday, an Iowa jury convicted farmer Cristhian Bahena Rivera of first degree murder in the 2018 murder of student Mollie Tibbetts.
The Davenport panel deliberated for seven hours over two days before returning with the verdict against Rivera, the 24-year-old Mexican national who led investigators to Tibbetts’ body in a cornfield in Brooklyn, Iowa, near a months after she went jogging in July. 18 and disappeared.
The accused showed no emotion at the announcement of the single verdict.
He could have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter, but once jurors agreed on the guilt of the main charge, those lesser options became moot.
District Court Judge Joel Yates ordered Rivera’s detention without bail and set her sentence for July 15.
Deputies handcuffed Rivera and sent him back to prison as his defense attorneys and prosecutors cordially shook hands.
“In this case, we are very happy that the jury took the time it took to review the evidence and deliberate,” defense lawyer Jennifer Frese told reporters, standing next to her co-counsel. and husband, Chad Frese. It would be impossible to find a jury that had not heard of this case. “
The first degree murder conviction, carrying a maximum life sentence behind bars, did not surprise MSNBC legal analyst Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor.
“He led them to the body and he confessed that he passed out during the critical period and was on the video stalking her, surrounding her in his car. All of these things put together ”was a strong argument, she said.
At the start of the trial, defense attorneys attempted to infer that Tibbetts’ boyfriend Dalton Jack was unfaithful and had anger issues. But the boyfriend was working at a construction site more than 100 miles away in Dubuque when Tibbett went missing, witnesses said.
Then, in a stunning move from the defense on Wednesday, Rivera took the witness stand in his own defense and said two masked men were responsible for the crime, but forced him to speak at gunpoint. .
Chad and Jennifer Frese said their client told them about the masked men when they first met him almost three years ago.
“He had never deviated from this version of events, not from a detail,” Chad Frese said. “So we had to find something up there. We thought the jury should hear it directly.
Jennifer Frese said the story of masked attackers was not made up a desperate hour later.
“If we wanted to invent something, we would have found something better than this,” she said.
Still, Alksne said the accused’s testimony did more harm than good.
“It was pathetic,” she said. “You can’t have a double defense like that, all that did was make the jury more eager to convict. He would have done better to remain silent than all this nonsense. “
The case against Rivera, an undocumented worker, gained national attention when then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans said the tragedy was made possible by lax immigration laws .
Tibbetts’ family objected to this account and begged politicians not to use the University of Iowa student’s name to advance an anti-immigration agenda.
“Unfortunately, others ignored our request. Instead, they chose to distort and corrupt Mollie’s tragic death to further a cause she vehemently opposed. I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in his reasonable outcome, ”his father, Rob Tibbetts, writes in the Des Moines Register. “But don’t take Mollie’s soul into your own hands to assert views she believed to be deeply racist.” “
This is a developing story, please update here for updates.