Man convicted of killing Mollie Tibbetts faces life in prison

Posted at 2:50 AM, May 28, 2021 and last updated 4:53 PM, July 5, 2023

By Ivy Brown

IOWA CITY, Iowa (Court TV)  — A jury found Cristhian Bahena River guilty of first-degree murder of the University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. Bahena Rivera faces life in prison, pending a sentencing hearing scheduled for July 15, 2021, in Montezuma, Iowa.



IOWA CITY, Iowa (Court TV)  — The man accused of murdering University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts is facing life in prison, if convicted by a jury.

Bahena Rivera allegedly killed 20-year-old Tibbetts on July 18, 2018. The young woman was jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, when investigators say Bahena Rivera followed her in a vehicle and attempted to abduct her. Tibbetts was reportedly “killed during a struggle.” Her body was found in a cornfield a month after she went missing.

Authorities reportedly narrowed in on Bahena Rivera as a suspect after reviewing surveillance footage of the area Tibbetts was running, according to The Des Moines Register. They brought him in for questioning on August 20, and he ultimately confessed to the crime and took authorities to her body.

According to an affidavit, Bahena Rivera said he followed Tibbetts in his vehicle before parking and running after her. When she threatened to call police, he then “got mad” and “blocked his memory” until he “came to” at an intersection. He then drove back towards a cornfield, noticed an earbud in his lap and remembered he had placed Tibbett’s body in the trunk of his car. He then hid her remains in the cornfield, according to the affidavit.

Bahena Rivera pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder. His defense team has argued his confession was unreliable because “he was sleep deprived and susceptible to coercion after 11 hours of questioning,” according to The Associated Press. In the interrogation video, Bahena Rivera reportedly denied involvement “until the near end…after he had been falling in and out of sleep.”

A jury of eight women and seven men – 12 jurors and three alternates – was seated on May 18. Opening statements began May 19. Court TV is carrying the trial proceedings live.

DAY 8 5/28/21

  • Jury finds Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts

DAY 7 5/27/21

DAY 6 5/26/21

  • Defense rests after calling 11 witnesses over two days, including the defendant Cristhian Bahena Rivera
    • In a shocking claim, the defendant testifies two mystery men broke into his home and forced him to drive while they carried out the attack on Tibbetts
  • Dalton Jack’s ex-girlfriend Jordyn Lamb Johnson testifies that Jack reached out in March 2018 saying he would leave Tibbetts for her
  • Outside the jury’s presence, a DCI agent testifies that Dalton Jack admitted to sexting Jordyn Lamb in months leading up to Tibbetts’ death and said that Tibbetts found out from Johnson – after Johnson discovered Jack led her to believe he was not seeing Tibbetts
  • Witness Jamie Slife describes calling in tips to law enforcement about her father Ron Pexa, whom investigators questioned and cleared, but the defense nevertheless keeps floating as a possible suspect
  • Defendant’s uncle describes his fruitless efforts to speak to Bahena Rivera while he was giving a voluntary statement at the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office
  • WATCH: 5/26/21 Mollie Tibbetts Murder Trial: Day 6 

DAY 5 5/25/21

  • In defense opening, co-counsel Jennifer Frese accuses investigators of planting the idea in Bahena Rivera’s mind that he blacked out during part of encounter with Tibbets that he could not account for in his confession
  • Forensic DNA consultant testifies that profiles from an unidentified man and an unidentified woman were found on trunk liner of Bahena Rivera’s car
  • Bahena Rivera’s aunt testifies that no one at the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office helped or offered her the chance to speak with him during his interview/interrogation
  • The mother of Bahena Rivera’s daughter testifies that he’s a caring, responsible father who was never violent, but also never showed signs of memory loss or mental health issues that might account for the alleged black-out period
  • Latent print analyst testifies prints found on fishing tackle box in defendant’s car do not belong to him
  • Defendant’s ex-boyfriend, Dalton Jack, stonewalls defense lawyer Chad Frese as Frese tries to extract information about Jack’s relationship with another woman and his whereabouts the night Tibbetts went missing
  • WATCH: 5/25/21 Mollie Tibbetts Murder Trial: Day 5

DAY 4 5/24/21

  • State of Iowa rests its case-in-chief after calling 17 witnesses over four days
  • Judge Joel Yates denies defense motion for judgment of acquittal
  • Jury sees photos of numerous stab wounds that penetrated Tibbetts’ skull and neck bones and nicked her ribs before her remains were left to rot in a sultry cornfield
  • Defense lawyer Chad Frese presses case agent Trent Vileta on all the people they interviewed before Bahena Rivera appeared on their radar, prompting a testy, loud redirect from prosecutor Scott Brown about whether anyone else had confessed to the crime, led investigators to the body or had Tibbetts’ blood in their vehicle
  • Jury hears cell phone evidence that investigators used to track Tibbetts’ whereabouts the night she went missing to the last known location of her phone in cornfields in Poweshiek County’s southeast corner
  • WATCH: 5/24/21 Mollie Tibbetts Murder Trial: Day 4

DAY 3 5/21/21

  • Jurors see crime scene photos of Tibbetts’ remains in a cornfield – her shorts and underwear were found a distance from her remains; all that was left on her body were sports bra, socks and sneakers
  • The defense shows video clips of Bahena Rivera dozing off during breaks in his interrogation in an attempt to suggest he falsely confessed partly because he was sleep deprived
  • Former Iowa City Police officer Pamela Romero denies lying to or misleading the defendant about why he was brought in so she could elicit a confession from him
  • Jurors hear DNA evidence showing Mollie Tibbetts is a match for blood found on the trunk of the defendant’s car
  • WATCH: 5/21/21 Mollie Tibbetts Murder Trial: Day 3

DAY 2 5/20/21

  • Jury sees multiple clips of home security camera footage showing jogger believed to be Mollie Tibbetts and black Chevy Malibu circling area shortly after – defendant admits he was the driver
  • Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Dep. Steve Kivi describes chance encounter with defendant’s vehicle that led to Bahena’s identification
  • Former Iowa City Police Officer Pamela Romero describes how she elicited the alleged confession that led to Mollie Tibbetts’ remains
  • WATCH: 5/20/21 Mollie Tibbetts Murder Trial: Day 2

DAY 1 5/19/21

  • In their opening statement, the state highlights Bahena’s confession and the presence of Tibbetts’ blood in Bahena’s vehicle with custom rims and chrome accents, claiming the evidence will show that Bahena was the only person who had access to the vehicle
  • Defense defers opening statement until close of state’s case-in-chief
  • Defense grills Tibbetts’ boyfriend, Dalton Jack, on his cheating ways and draws attention to their fraught relationship in an attempt to undermine his credibility and portray him as an uncaring boyfriend with anger issues who would rather see his girlfriend dead than lose her
  • Defendant’s cousin testifies she bought him the black Chevy Malibu he was driving when Deputy Kivi stopped him
  • WATCH: 5/19/21 Mollie Tibbetts Murder Trial: Day 1


Court TV field producer Emanuella Grinberg contributed to this report.