Trial for man accused of killing Mollie Tibbetts will be moved out of Poweshiek County

Defense and prosecution agreed on venue change

FILE PHOTO: Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, arrives for his initial appearance on a charge of first-degree murder during at
FILE PHOTO: 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. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MONTEZUMA — The man accused of fatally stabbing Mollie Tibbetts won’t be tried in Poweshiek County, where the 20-year-old went missing and was later found dead.

A judge canceled a hearing Tuesday on moving the trial because the defense and prosecution agreed it should be moved.

Lawyers for Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, asked for the move because of extensive pretrial publicity, arguing 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 has drawn local and national attention, Rivera’s lawyer Chad Frese said in a motion. There also was publicity surrounding 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, Frese said in the motion.

In a motion by the prosecution, Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver 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.

“The death of Mollie Tibbetts has touched many of the residents of Poweshiek County, and her death has significantly and emotionally affected many of the residents of the county and prospective jurors,” Klaver said in the motion.

Klaver noted that the defense is not allowed to choose where the trial is to be moved. If the court does move the trial, the prosecution just asks that the judge consider a county with similar demographics as Poweshiek, and a courthouse that is easily accessible.

he defense and prosecution are in the process of working on a formal consent regarding moving the trial, 8th Judicial District Judge Joel Yates said in a motion.

Yates will likely talk with lawyers about prospective counties and may set a new trial date.

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. The trial was previously set for Sept. 3.

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