Jury selection began Monday for the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an illegal immigrant who is accused of murdering 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.
The high-profile trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa. WQAD-TV reported that the proceedings will be streamed online at WeAreIowa.com, the We Are Iowa app or the We Are Iowa YouTube channel.
Tibbetts went missing on July 18, 2018, after she went for a jog in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, and never came back. The efforts of her family, friends, and law enforcement to find her captured national media attention, including that of the White House after then-Vice President Mike Pence commented on the case during an event in Iowa.
“I just want Mollie’s family to know: You’re on the hearts of every American,” Pence said during an event on Aug. 15, 2018.
A month after she disappeared, her body was found in a cornfield outside Brooklyn. Surveillance footage showed a car police connected to 24-year-old Mexican immigrant Bahena Rivera near the area Tibbetts took her jog. Police interrogated Bahena Rivera and then charged him with first-degree murder after he led investigators to her body.
Police say that after interrogation Bahena Rivera told them he followed Tibbetts in his car while she was jogging in town on July 18 and then got out of his car and started running behind her. He allegedly said that he became angry when she threatened to call the police and “blocked his memory” of what happened next.
The criminal complaint filed by police stated that Bahena Rivera confessed to blacking out during an altercation with Tibbetts and that he later woke up at an intersection in Poweshiek County, realizing that he had put Tibbetts into the trunk of his car.
From the criminal complaint:
Rivera stated he then made a u-turn, drove back to an entrance to a field and then drove into a driveway to a cornfield. He noticed there was an earpiece from headphones in his lap and that is how he realized he put her in the trunk. He went to get her out of the trunk and he noticed blood on the side of her head. The Defendant Rivera described the female’s clothing, that she was wearing an ear phone or headphone set. The defendant further described during the interview that he dragged Tibbetts on foot from his vehicle to a secluded location in a cornfield. Rivera described he put her over his shoulder and took her about 20 meters into the cornfield and he left her covered in some corn leaves and that he left her there, face up. The Defendant was able to use his phone to determine the route he traveled from Brooklyn. Rivera then later guided law enforcement to her location from memory. Law enforcement located the remains of a deceased female in the area Rivera took them to. The physical surroundings of her location and other factors at the scene matched his earlier physical description of the area as that where he placed her body.
Bahena Rivera pleaded not guilty to Tibbetts’ murder.
Federal authorities say Bahena Rivera was in the U.S. illegally and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed a detainer to prevent his release after he was arrested.
In the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections, former President Donald Trump and other Republicans frequently cited Bahena Rivera’s immigration status and Tibbetts’ murder in making arguments for border security and tough-on-crime policies.