NOTE: Testimony could include the introduction of evidence including graphic photos.
DAVENPORT, Iowa (AP) — Video of a vehicle driving near where a missing 20-year-old Iowa woman had been out running helped police quickly identify the driver as the suspect in her 2018 disappearance, an investigator told jurors Thursday.
Poweshiek County Deputy Steve Kivi said the homeowner’s surveillance video collected during a canvass showed a black Chevy Malibu with chrome door handles “just kind of lingering” near where Mollie Tibbetts disappeared while running on July 18, 2018, in Brooklyn, Iowa.
Kivi said he reviewed the video on Aug. 15, 2018, while investigating what happened to Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student who was back in her hometown over summer break. The next day, Kivi said he spotted the vehicle just outside of Brooklyn getting off of Interstate 80 and later interviewed the driver, a local dairy farm worker named Cristhian Bahena Rivera.
Kivi testified on the second day of Bahena Rivera’s trial for first-degree murder in the death of Tibbetts. Prosecutors say the video of Bahena Rivera’s vehicle, blood found in its trunk that was later a match for Tibbetts and a partial confession by the defendant will be key to proving his guilt.
Bahena Rivera’s defense team tried Thursday to cast doubt on others who had initially come under scrutiny, including Tibbetts’ boyfriend and local residents who had been investigated because of their past behavior toward women.
Kivi said that Bahena Rivera was cooperative during their initial discussion on Aug. 16, 2018, and calmly denied knowing anything about what happened to Tibbetts. But the deputy recounted driving with Bahena Rivera and other law enforcement officials just four days later to the cornfield where Tibbetts’ remains were discovered.
Police say that Bahena Rivera led them to the body after a lengthy interrogation, although a judge ruled that those statements cannot be used at the trial because an officer had failed to read him his Miranda rights.
Bahena Rivera made additional incriminating statements at the scene that can be used, including that he had approached Tibbetts while she ran, fought with her after she threatened to call police, and remembered driving to the field where he left her bloody body.
Kivi acknowledged that investigators never found a murder weapon. An autopsy found that Tibbetts had died of stab wounds.
He acknowledged that several other county residents had come under scrutiny during the monthlong investigation, including a man who lived next to where Tibbetts’ body was found. But he said no evidence was found linking anyone else to Tibbetts’ death.
For more coverage of Mollie Tibbetts’ murder, click here.