MOLLIE TIBBETTS

Cristhian Bahena Rivera pleads not guilty in fatal stabbing of Mollie Tibbetts

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, pleads not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma. (Pool photo, Kelsey Kremer/The Register)
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, pleads not guilty to the charge of first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018, at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma. (Pool photo, Kelsey Kremer/The Register)

MONTEZUMA — The man charged in the fatal stabbing of Mollie Tibbetts pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Poweshiek County District Court.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, charged with first-degree murder, made his appearance with his lawyers and a court interpreter — his first language is Spanish, and he speaks limited English. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole. 

He also waived his right to speedy trial within 90 days, and a judge set his trial for April 16.   

Rivera is accused of abducting and killing Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student who vanished while jogging July 18 in her hometown Brooklyn, Iowa, according to a criminal complaint.

A preliminary autopsy showed Tibbetts died from “multiple sharp force injuries,” which indicates she was stabbed with a knife or other sharp object.

Rivera, a native of Mexico who was living and working in the U.S. illegally, worked at Yarrabee Farms in Brooklyn and had been living in the area for years, authorities said.

The family who owns Yarrabee Farms previously said Rivera gave them false identification when he was hired as a farmhand. The owners admitted they didn’t use the federal E-Verify system to cross-check Rivera’s information.

Yarrabee officials declined to provide the false name that Rivera used, but two weeks ago the Associated Press, citing anonymous sources, reported the false name was John Budd.

Rivera’s lawyers have asked the court to provide $5,000 to the defense for a Des Moines private investigator at public expense. The investigator is needed to assist lawyers with Rivera’s defense, Chad Frese, Rivera’s lawyer, said in the motion. The $5,000 is less than what will likely be needed but it will be an initial stipend.

The request for public funds by the defense is not unusual. Most defendants are granted public funds to aid in their defense.

A judge granted the public money last week. 

Rivera remains in jail on a $5 million bail.

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