NOTE: Some evidence presented during the trial may contain graphic images.
DAVENPORT, Iowa – UPDATE: Cristhian Bahena Rivera is on the witness stand Wednesday morning, testifying in his own defense, in the trial over the murder of Mollie Tibbetts.
In his testimony, he describes two masked men he found in his home when he got out of the shower after returning from work on July 18th, 2018. That’s the day Mollie Tibbetts disappeared.
During questioning by his defense attorney Jennifer Frese, Bahena Rivera described how he came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico and his work history in Iowa.
Frese moved on to questions about the day Mollie Tibbetts. Bahena Rivera testified that after returning home from work that day he took a shower and when he got out there were two masked men in his home and at least one of them had a knife.
They told him not to do anything stupid and forced him to drive them and followed their directions. Bahena Rivera says they saw someone jogging on 285th Ave. but didn’t know them, though he now recognizes that person was Mollie Tibbetts.
Bahena Rivera testified that the men told him to stop and one of them left to get out of the car and began walking toward the town of Brooklyn. He was gone for about 10 to 12 minutes. He recalls hearing the other man in the back of the car whisper, “Come on, Jack.”
When questioned whether he was saying Dalton Jack, Mollie’s boyfriend, was one of the men he said, “No.”
He says the man came back in the car and told him to continue driving. He says they drove around 300 meters and he was directed to stop and hand over keys. The men got out of car and he heard them opening trunk, heard movement in car, and then the trunk closed.
He was directed to a cornfield, where Tibbetts’ body was later found, and the men took his keys and phone. They told him they knew of his girlfriend, at the time, and daughter and warned him not to say anything. He says before leaving the men told him to wait a few minutes and leave.
He got out of the car and looked in the trunk where he found Tibbetts’ body. He said he saw a bit of movement at the beginning but none after.
He got the body out of the trunk and carried it into the cornfield and covered it with corn. He said he didn’t call the police because he was scared.
The defense also questioned Bahena Rivera on his interrogation by police for which he said he was tired and sleepy after a 12-hour workday at Yarabee Farms. He said authorities used phrases like “help yourself” and that they suggested he might have blacked out.
During cross examination by Prosecutor Scott Brown, Bahena Rivera again denied stabbing Tibbetts. He also said he had no contact with the two masked men after they left the cornfield.
Testimony is set to resume at 1:15 p.m. Wednesday following a lunch break.
Stay up to date with WHO 13 Calyn Thompson’s Twitter feed or watch the live testimony in the video player above.
PREVIOUS STORY: The defense team representing the man accused of killing Mollie Tibbetts will continue its case Wednesday at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport.
The first witness on the stand for the defense Wednesday was Brandon Bublitz with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation. He testified about collecting buccal swabs of evidence during the investigation.
Attorneys for Cristhian Rivera began questioning witnesses Tuesday in court after the state wrapped up its case Monday.
Tibbetts was a 20-year-old University of Iowa student when she disappeared while jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn in July of 2018. Her body was found a month later in a cornfield about ten miles away. Investigators say Rivera led them to Tibbetts’ body.
Attorney Jennifer Frese began with an opening statement, something the defense team declined to do when the trial began last week.
“Mollie Tibbetts deserves justice. Her family deserves justice, but so does Cristhian Bahena Rivera,” Frese said.
The defense team called five witnesses on Tuesday. The first was a DNA expert who discussed evidence in the case, specifically the presence of DNA in the trunk of Rivera’s black Chevy Malibu.
Dr. Michael Spence said there was unaccounted for alleles or ‘genetic markers’ that were not from the victim (Tibbetts) or defendant (Rivera). He said he would’ve interpreted things differently than the DCI crime lab, but does acknowledge Tibbetts’ blood was found inside the trunk.
A DCI criminalist discussed the prints on items in the trunk. The defense wanted the jury not to rule out any suspects in this case.
The jury learned more about who Rivera was as a person from the people who know him. They heard from Rivera’s aunt Alejandra Cervantes Valle, as well as his former girlfriend and mother of his child, Iris Monarrez Gamboa. They provided character evidence about Rivera, saying he often spent time with family and was never violent.
“He was a really good father, he was responsible, and he always looked after his daughter,” Gamboa said.
The defense quickly turned the attention of the jury to Mollie Tibbetts’ boyfriend Dalton Jack. This is the second time he took the stand in this trial.
Defense attorneys asked him many questions about who Mollie was, their relationship, and problems they may have had.
When the prosecution cross-examined him, they focused on what happened during that week of July 2018.
“Mr. Jack, did you have anything, at all, to do with the disappearance or murder of Mollie Tibbetts?” Prosecutor Scott Brown asked.
“No,” Jack said.
“That’s all I have,” Brown said.
Several objections took place and the defense team often had to show records of past conversations when Dalton Jack was on the stand.
The defense’s case will continue Wednesday morning at 8:30.