Mollie Tibbetts murder trial moved to Woodbury County

Trial still starts Sept. 3

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, arrives for his initial appearance on a charge of first-degree murder during at the Poweshi
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, arrives for his initial appearance on a charge of first-degree murder during at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. Rivera is accused of killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MONTEZUMA — A judge ruled Wednesday to move the trial for a man accused of fatally stabbing 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts to Woodbury County, and it will remain set for Sept. 3.

Lawyers for Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, and prosecutors agreed the trial should be moved out of Poweshiek County because of extensive pretrial publicity.

The defense, in a motion, argued their client couldn’t have a fair and impartial jury because hundreds of people from the area volunteered in the monthlong search for the University of Iowa student after she vanished while jogging July 18 in her hometown of Brooklyn.

This case also drew local and national attention, concerning Rivera’s citizenship status — he is a Mexican national who is in the U.S. illegally — and those opinions have created more prejudice in the county, Rivera’s lawyer Chad Frese said in the motion.

Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver, in his motion, said a fair and impartial jury cannot be selected in the county based on the nature of the crime, and many prospective jurors likely would have the facts of the case and have “substantial knowledge of the investigation.

Rivera, charged with first-degree murder, is accused of abducting and killing Tibbetts, according to a criminal complaint.

Her body was found Aug. 21 in rural Poweshiek County. A preliminary autopsy showed she died from “multiple sharp force injuries,” indicating she was stabbed with a knife or other sharp object.

Rivera had been living and working as a farmhand in the area for years, authorities said.

He remains in jail on $5 million bail.

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