Public Safety

DNA test confirms Mollie Tibbetts' blood in suspect's car

Defense attorneys seek to suppress his statements, evidence

A Mollie Tibbetts’ missing poster is displayed in the front window of the Timepiece Theatre in Brooklyn, Iowa. (Kat Russell, The Gazette)
A Mollie Tibbetts’ missing poster is displayed in the front window of the Timepiece Theatre in Brooklyn, Iowa. (Kat Russell, The Gazette)
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Newly filed court documents state a DNA analysis found Mollie Tibbetts’ blood in the trunk of the Chevy Malibu driven by Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the man accused of her murder.

Bahena Rivera, 24, was arrested Aug. 21, a little more than a month after Tibbetts, 20, disappeared while jogging near her home in Brooklyn, Iowa.

He has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, with trial set to begin Sept. 3 in Woodbury County.

Bahena Rivera was charged after leading police to a cornfield south of Guernsey where Tibbett’s body was hidden. An autopsy showed she died of stab wounds.

In March, Bahena Rivera’s attorneys filed a motion to suppress statements he made to police, claiming he was not read his Miranda rights at the beginning of the more than 11-hour interview.

The motion also claims investigators made misleading statements, telling Bahena Rivera they were trying to help him and promising leniency if he talked.

In the prosecution response, filed Friday, it says investigators did not initially “mirandize” Bahena Rivera because he was not in custody. It wasn’t until federal agents questioned Bahena Rivera’s immigration status that he was read his rights and detained.

Additionally, the prosecution argues Bahena Rivera was interviewed in an unlocked room and given as many as 10 breaks, as well as food and beverages — a further indication that he was not initially in custody.

The defense’s motion also seeks to suppress any evidence found during the search of Bahena Rivera’s vehicle, claiming that investigators told Bahena Rivera he did not need a lawyer, even after his employer at Yarrabee Farms indicated he was going to contact the farm’s lawyer.

In the response, the prosecutor says officers approached Bahena Rivera “in a familiar environment around people with whom he was familiar,” and that all interactions were translated by “a federal agent who speaks Spanish,” and that Bahena Rivera gave both verbal and written consent to search the vehicle.

Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student, vanished from the Brooklyn area July 18. Her disappearance set off a massive search that involved state and federal authorities.

Roughly a month later, while reviewing footage from a home video surveillance system, investigators noticed a dark Chevrolet Malibu driving back and forth at the same time Tibbetts was running. Investigators connected the car to Bahena Rivera, who was picked up and questioned.

During the interview, authorities said Bahena Rivera claimed he had blacked out and later — after coming to and finding Tibbetts’ body in the trunk of his car — realized he had killed her.

An undocumented immigrant, Bahena Rivera had used a fake name to gain employment at Yarrabee Farms, which sits at the edge of Brooklyn, and had been living illegally in the area for years, investigators have said.

A judge will hear arguments on the motions June 25.

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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