Jury finds Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder in Mollie Tibbetts killing

A jury on Friday found 26-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder in the 2018 killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts

Following more than seven hours of deliberations stretching from Thursday afternoon into Friday morning, the jury announced the verdict in the case, the Des Moines Register reported, ending the two-week trial that had been postponed several times since it was initially scheduled to take place in April 2019. 

Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, had pleaded not guilty in September 2018, with his defense team throughout the trial pointing to several other possible suspects. 

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The Register reported that Bahena Rivera himself took the stand this week and while he admitted to leaving 20-year-old Tibbetts’s body in a cornfield, he denied killing her, instead claiming that two armed men ordered him to bring her body there. 

The search for Tibbetts drew national attention when she disappeared after going out for a run in July 2018. 

Her body was discovered in August after Rivera reportedly led investigators to the cornfield where he had left her. 

The Iowa State Medical Examiner listed Tibbetts’s cause of death as "homicide resulting from multiple sharp force injuries," with prosecutors during the trial saying that she was repeatedly stabbed and that authorities found her body partially unclothed, with her shorts and underwear located some distance away in the field. 

During the trial, prosecutors presented evidence showing that investigators had identified Bahena Rivera's car circling in the area where Tibbetts was last seen. 

The Register reported that Bahena Rivera, during interviews with police, said that he thought Tibbetts was “hot.” 

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Bahena Rivera then reportedly told police that he approached Tibbetts while she was jogging and ran alongside her, after which she grabbed her phone and threatened to call the police. 

According to court documents, Bahena Rivera "said he then panicked and got mad and that he then 'blocked' his 'memory,' which is what he does when he gets very upset.” 

Forensic experts during the trial testified that they had found smears of blood with Tibbetts’s DNA in Bahena Rivera’s car. 

Prosecutor Scott Brown said during closing arguments on Thursday that Tibbetts “crossed paths with him, and it ended her life.” 

"She was attacked brutally by him. She was stabbed repeatedly by him. Can you imagine what that was like for her?" he asked the jury, according to the Register. 

Bahena Rivera now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 15. 

Then-President TrumpDonald TrumpRonny Jackson, former White House doctor, predicts Biden will resign McCarthy: Pelosi appointing members of Jan. 6 panel who share 'pre-conceived narrative' Kinzinger denounces 'lies and conspiracy theories' while accepting spot on Jan. 6 panel MORE used the Tibbetts killing to call for stricter immigration policies, saying in a “Fox & Friends” interview at the time that "[Tibbetts] was killed by a horrible person that came in from Mexico, illegally here, found by [Immigration and Customs Enforcement], our great ICE who’s abused by the Democrats and the left, and without them you might not be sitting here so comfortably right now.”

After the immigrant was charged with murder in 2018, family members of Tibbetts pushed back on commentators who they said were attempting to push a “racist, false narrative” about immigration. 

Sandi Tibbetts, a cousin of the 20-year-old, wrote on Facebook at the time, “Especially for those of you who did not know her in life, you do not get to usurp Mollie and her legacy for your racist, false narrative now that she is no longer with us. We hereby reclaim our Mollie.”