Mollie Tibbetts murder: Farm worker jailed for life for killing college student and burying her in cornfield

Judge says sentence reflects ‘the necessity for protecting the community’

Clara Hill
Tuesday 31 August 2021 16:31 BST
Fixed-Screen Recording 2021-08-31 at 16.09.21_1.mp4

A farm worker in Iowa has been sentenced to life in prison with no opportunity for parole for the murder of college student Mollie Tibbetts.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 27, was found guilty of murder in the first degree, abduction and the fatal stabbing the 20-year-old psychology major at the American University of Iowa in 2018.

According to an affidavit and testimony in court, Rivera said he followed Tibbetts while she was out on a run and in an angry rage he “blacked out” in July 2018.

Rivera said that later he recalled what had happened a month later and took police to the cornfield Tibbetts’ body was buried in. The Iowa State Medical Examiner ruled Tibbetts death as a "homicide resulting from multiple sharp force injuries," implying that she had been stabbed to death.

"Mr. Rivera, I selected this particular sentence for you after considering the nature of the offense committed by you, the harm to the victim and the victim's family, your need for rehabilitation and the necessity for protecting the community from further offenses by you and others," Judge Joel Yates said.

In addition to the custodial sentence, Rivera was ordered to pay Tibbetts’ family $150,000 in restitution and denied him bond during his appeal process.

Rivera’s conviction was based on surveillance footage of his vehicle, traces of her DNA being found in it and his confession to law enforcement in 2018.

According to law enforcement during the trial, in an August 2018 interview with them, Rivera admitted to seeing Tibbetts’ on a run, finding her attractive and following her both in his car and while walking. Rivera told authorities that she had threatened to call the police. After getting angry with her, he fought with her. He said that he “blacked out” and did not remember if he had killed Tibbetts.

However, when Rivera testified in court, he had a different account of events. He said that two men with a knife had forced him to drive to Brooklyn, the town that Tibbetts was from. He went to say that due to his immigration status, he tends to avoid law enforcement and during the interview, he thought he was telling them what they wanted to hear.

Rivera, a father of a 4 year-old, stressed that he was exhausted after working a 12 hour shift at the farm he worked at. He is believed to have sent his family back in Mexico at least $700 a month to support them after moving to to the US when he was 17.

Tibbetts’ family have spoken out against about using her death as anti-immigration talking point, as Rivera is an undocumented immigrant. Her father, Rob Tibbetts, said that his daughter would have found it “profoundly racist” after former President Donald Trump cited the case at a rally.

This sentiment was shared by veteran Fox News reporter Geraldo Rivera, who told the network in 2018: “This is a murder story, not an immigration story.”

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