Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the 24-year-old accused killer of an Iowa college student, made his first appearance in court on Aug. 22, 2018, at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma.
He was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts, who disappeared from Brooklyn on July 18.
A criminal complaint alleges Rivera followed Tibbetts while she was out for a run, abducted and killed her, and dumped her body in a cornfield. Investigators say Rivera led them to a body believed to be Tibbetts on Aug. 21.
Investigators zeroed in on Rivera after obtaining footage from surveillance cameras in Brooklyn. The footage showed a Chevy Malibu connected to Rivera that was driving back and forth as Tibbetts was running in the area, according to Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Rick Rahn.
An affidavit attached to the criminal complaint against Rivera alleged that he admitted to investigators he got out of his car and started running alongside Tibbetts.
Tibbetts grabbed her phone and said she was going to call the police. The affidavit said Rivera panicked and then said he blacked out. Rivera next remembers seeing her earphones on his lap, and taking her bloody body out of the trunk of his car, it said.
Rivera was cooperating with investigators and speaking with the help of a translator, Rahn said.
An autopsy is scheduled for Aug. 22, by the state medical examiner to determine the cause of death.
A conviction on first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole in Iowa, which does not have the death penalty.
Family Releases Statement
The family of Mollie Tibbetts is acknowledging, “Our hearts are broken.”
They released a statement on Aug. 22, that notes their grief but also thanks “all of those from around the world who have sent their thoughts and prayers for our girl.”
The statement adds, “We know that many of you will join us as we continue to carry Mollie in our hearts forever.”
The Tibbetts family says they need time to grieve in private but emphasized they appreciate the “outpouring of love and support that has been shared in Mollie’s name.”
Judge Raises Bond to $5 Million
At the hearing on Aug. 22, Magistrate Judge Diane Crookham-Johnson granted a state prosecutor’s request to raise the bond amount to cash-only $5 million.
Rivera had been held since Aug. 21, on a $1 million cash-only bond after being charged.
Assistant attorney general Scott Brown noted that Rivera is suspected of being in the country illegally, and is charged with a “heinous crime.” He says the higher bond amount would protect the community.
Rivera’s lawyer, Allan Richards, said he plans to ask for a bond review hearing at a later date. He said his client is a young man who has no prior criminal history and has worked for a prominent local farmer for years.
Lawyer Challenges Statement on Suspect’s Status
Rivera’s Facebook page described him as being from Guayabillo, a community of fewer than 500 people in the Mexican state of Guerrero. It’s about a three-hour drive from the resort city of Acapulco.
A search of Iowa court records revealed no prior criminal history, and it’s unclear whether he had ever been subject to prior deportation proceedings.
Richards challenged the government’s statement on Aug. 22, that the suspect has been living in the United States illegally.
In a court document, Richards stated that an employer has said Rivera has legal permission to be in the U.S. The document named Craig Lang, a former head of the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s three public universities. Lang is co-owner of a dairy that employed Rivera.
Rivera’s immigration status was confirmed by an E-Verify electronic immigration status check, the Lang family said in a statement.
Richards also asked that the proceedings be closed, he argued in a motion filed on Aug.22, that his client’s right to a fair trial would be hurt by media coverage if reporters were allowed to remain in the courtroom.
The motion was rejected by the judge.