Trial for man accused of killing Mollie Tibbetts is reset to September

Cristhian Bahena Rivera pleads not guilty Sept. 19, 2018, to the charge of first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Ti
Cristhian Bahena Rivera pleads not guilty Sept. 19, 2018, to the charge of first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma. His trial has been reset to Sept. 29 to allow another appeal by his attorneys to the Iowa Supreme Court. (Pool photo, Kelsey Kremer/The Register)

MONTEZUMA — The trial for a man accused of killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts has been reset to Sept. 29, following another pretrial appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, charged with first-degree murder, asked for a second review, this time by three justices, of a district court judge’s December ruling on key evidence in the fatal stabbing.

The first review, by one justice, was denied in February.

The defense is appealing the ruling that allowed Rivera’s statements during a police interrogation, which included him giving the location of a cornfield where Tibbetts’ body was found Aug. 21, 2018, about a month after she went missing while jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn in central Iowa.

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

Investigators obtained a surveillance video from a homeowner in Brooklyn that captured images of a jogger they believe was Tibbetts, which shows Bahena Rivera’s vehicle, a black Chevrolet Malibu with unique chrome handles and mirrors, passing by her, according to hearing testimony.

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.”

In the motion to suppress and the appeal, Bahena Rivera’s attorneys argued authorities had not properly read their client his Miranda rights until hours into an interrogation. Therefore, they said, statements he made were inadmissible.

Prosecutors, in their brief, acknowledged that some statements shouldn’t be admitted because some of the rights were left out when read to Bahena Rivera.

Police later read him the Miranda rights properly, officers testified during the hearing.

Eighth Judicial District Judge Joel Yates agreed that some statements Bahena Rivera made must be omitted from trial.

But Yates denied the rest of the defense’s arguments, including that Bahena Rivera was sleep-deprived, that he had only limited understanding of English and that law enforcement tried to induce a false confession.

Yates ruled that Bahena Rivera’s statements were made voluntarily during the interrogation and in giving consent to search his vehicle.

He also noted that a consent form in Spanish informed Bahena Rivera he had the right to refuse a search of the vehicle.

Even when the tone of questioning shifted to be confrontational because law enforcement didn’t believe Bahena Rivera, he had access to his cellphone and was free to leave, the judge stated.

Bahena Rivera’s trial was moved to Woodbury County in northwest Iowa because of pretrial publicity.

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