Mollie Tibbetts murder trial shown video of suspect sleeping during interrogation as defence claims confession coerced

Christian Bahena Rivera led investigators to the body of the university student

Justin Vallejo
New York
Saturday 22 May 2021 10:06 BST
Mollie Tibbets murder suspect falls asleep during interrogation

A partial confession to the murder of Mollie Tibbetts was coerced while the farmworker accused of killing her was sleep deprived in an 11-hour interrogation, according to the suspect’s defence attorney.

Christian Bahena Rivera, 26, is charged with the first-degree murder of the 20-year-old University of Iowa student in 2018.

The court heard Mr Bahena River led investigators to her body in a cornfield where he allegedly said, "I brought you here, didn’t I? So that means that I did it. I don’t remember how I did it".

The partial confession is key to the prosecution case, but defence attorney Jennifer Frese said a video from the interrogation room showing Mr Bahena Rivera falling asleep suggested the confession was coerced while he was sleep-deprived.

The 30-minute surveillance video played at accelerated speed showed Mr Bahena River sleeping in his chair and on the table before he was awoken for a meal.

The footage was taken during his interrogation at the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office in Montezuma, Iowa, in August 2018 after Mr Bahena River had worked a full day at a dairy farm before the interview.

He was interrogated in Spanish by former Iowa City police officer Pamela Romero, who admitted she noticed him fall asleep but said that he remained alert and engaged during questioning.

During cross-examination, Ms Romero also admitted she falsely told Mr Bahena Rivera they found his hair in his car and already had cellphone records.

She also told Mr Bahena Rivera, a Mexican who has been living illegally in the US, that she wasn’t with immigration enforcement even though he was taken into custody by immigration authorities during the interrogation.

Prosecutor Scott Brown argued that Mr Bahena River directed police to the location of Ms Tibbett’s body, proving that the confession was not coerced.

Judge Joel Yates is considering whether to keep the testimony that Mr Bahena Rivera led police to Ms Tibbetts’ remains after finding Ms Romero failed to read the suspect his Miranda rights.

The prosecution argued that evidence was now relevant given the defence’s argument that Mr Bahena Rivera’s partial confession was coerced.

Ms Romero told the court that Mr Bahena Rivera said at the scene that he approached Ms Tibbetts while she was running, and fought with her after she threatened to call the police.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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