Public Safety

Iowa Supreme Court denies pretrial appeal for man accused of killing Mollie Tibbetts

District court likely will reset trial date

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, listens to the court proceeding during his arraignment Sept. 19, 2018, at the Poweshiek Cou
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, listens to the court proceeding during his arraignment Sept. 19, 2018, at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma. Bahena Rivera pleaded not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts. (Kelsey/Kremer, Des Moines Register)

DES MOINES — The man accused of killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts on Tuesday was denied a review by the Iowa Supreme Court of a district court ruling on key evidence in the fatal stabbing.

The trial, previously set to start Tuesday, was put on hold last month when defense attorneys for Cristhian Bahena Rivera asked the high court for a rare pretrial appeal.

The defense was appealing 8th Judicial District Judge Joel Yates’ December ruling, which allowed Rivera’s statements during a police interrogation that included him giving the location of where to find Tibbetts body on Aug. 21, 2018, about a month after she went missing while jogging in her hometown, Brooklyn, Iowa.

Defense attorneys also argued they recently received unidentified blood and fingerprint evidence in the case and needed more time to take depositions of new witnesses who will be called by the prosecution. They include Tibbetts’ boyfriend, Dalton Jack, who has since joined the military and is deployed to the Middle East.

“We are disappointed that Justice Edward Mansfield declined to take the opportunity to review these issues at this time,” Chad Frese, one of Bahena Rivera’s lawyers, said Tuesday. “We are considering our options at this point.”

Authorities said Bahena Rivera admitted to driving past Tibbetts on July 18, 2018 — the day she disappeared — while she was out running, then getting out of the car and chasing after her. Tibbetts threatened to call the police, authorities said, which angered Bahena Rivera.

According to testimony during a November suppression hearing, investigators obtained a surveillance video from a homeowner in Brooklyn that captured images of a jogger they believed was Tibbetts, which shows Bahena Rivera’s vehicle, a black Chevrolet Malibu with chrome handles and mirrors, passing by her.

Bahena Rivera told authorities he “blocked his memory” but later found Tibbetts’ body in the trunk of the Malibu. He then hid her body in a cornfield, according to testimony.

The state medical examiner’s report determined Tibbetts died of “multiple sharp force injuries.”

The prosecution, in response to the defense’s suppression motion, said there is no valid reason to delay the trial, adding the request for the pretrial review was not a reason to delay the trial.

Prosecutors also argued the defense attorneys had ample time to conduct depositions of prosecution witnesses but indicated months ago they weren’t taking depositions of any witnesses.

Yates had not lifted the stay and reset the trial as of Tuesday.   

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