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Mollie Tibbetts

After leading police to Mollie Tibbetts’ slain body, suspected killer pleads NOT GUILTY during arraignment: Report

A man accused of killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts pleaded not guilty during a Wednesday morning court arraignment.

USA Today reports that 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera, an undocumented immigrant behind bars in connection with the death of 20-year-old Mollie, had a brief appearance at the Poweshiek County Courthouse on Wednesday morning, where District Court Judge Joel Yates read his formal charges aloud. Despite reportedly leading officers to Mollie’s lifeless body on August 21, the suspect pleaded not guilty before he was led out of the courtroom.

Rivera waived his right to a trial within 90 days. His trial is scheduled for April 16, 2019.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, according to affidavit filed at the Poweshiek County District Court last month, Rivera is accused of abducting and murdering the slain college student. Rivera reportedly told investigators that he spotted Mollie jogging near Middle and Boundary Streets in Brooklyn on July 18, when he slowed down and started following her in his black Chevrolet Malibu.

At some point, Rivera got out of the vehicle and began following the University of Iowa student by foot, even jogging alongside her. Apparently frightened, Mollie told the suspect she would call 911, then pulled out her phone, according to Rivera’s reported admission. Rivera said he became upset and “blacked out” at the threat, something he claimed he did often when becoming too angry.

Rivera told investigators the next thing he remembered was waking up inside his car, parked at a rural intersection. He immediately made a U-turn and drove to the entrance of a rural field. He then drove into a driveway of a cornfield. Rivera said at some point he looked down noticed Mollie’s earpiece from her earbuds or headphones lying on his lap, and “realized he put her in the truck.”

Upon checking the trunk, Rivera said he found Mollie inside, with one side of her head bloodied, according to the affidavit. The suspect said he pulled Mollie out of the trunk and dragged her by foot into a secluded area in the woods. He then tossed her over his shoulders and walked around 20 meters into the woods, where he tossed her body on the ground and covered her with corn leaves.

While talking to authorities, Rivera described by memory where he left Mollie. The information, along with a digital footprint from Mollie’s Fitbit watch, helped lead investigators to her body. Investigators found a female’s lifeless body in the area Rivera led them to. The deceased victim was wearing “certain articles of clothing” Mollie was last seen wearing.

Rivera had been living in the Brooklyn area for around four to six years before the incident occurred. He worked at a local dairy farm and the owners who hired him said Rivera passed an “E-Verify” check, a web-based program used to determined a potential employee’s legal eligibility to work in the U.S.

Authorities indicated that Rivera typically “kept to himself” was not initially on their radar until a local Brooklyn resident provided surveillance footage that showed the suspect’s vehicle driving back and forth in the area where Mollie jogged on July 18.

“From that we were able to track his pattern in the routes in which he took,” Rick Rahn, special agent in charge at the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said last month.

Mollie Tibbetts Timeline

July 16-17

  • Mollie’s boyfriend saw her for the last time on July 16, before leaving town to work at a Dubuque construction site with his brother, around 100 miles away from Brooklyn.
  • On July 17, Dalton and his brother, who lives with him, drove to work. Mollie agreed to dog-sit while he was gone.
  • At around 5:30 p.m. on July 17, Mollie’s brother, Jake Tibbetts, who shares a car with her, dropped her off at Dalton’s home. Mollie stayed alone while watching the dogs.

July 18

  • Investigators report another neighbor reported Mollie out for a jog at around 7:30 p.m. on July 18.
  • Mollie had plans to go to her mother’s house for dinner on the evening on July 18. She never showed up.
  • At 10 p.m. on July 18, Dalton opened the SnapChat message from Mollie. He said it looked like she took the photo while indoors. It’s unclear when Mollie took the picture but detectives think she took it at some point on Wednesday.

July 19

  • Jake Tibbetts, who has been cleared as a suspect, sends Mollie a text message at 7:30 a.m., asking if she needed the car for work. The text message was not read.
  • Dalton sends Mollie a text message, wishing her a good morning. Mollie does not read the text message.
  • Mollie’s mother, Laura Calderwood, sends Mollie several text messages throughout the afternoon. All text messages remain unanswered.
  • Jake Tibbetts calls Laura Calderwood and says Mollie never made it to work at a daycare center. Laura calls the police.

July 20

  • The Facebook group, “Finding Mollie Tibbetts,” was created. It currently has over 40,000 members.
  • Hundreds of people show up in the Brooklyn area to search for Mollie.
  • The Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office announces that tips should directed to its office.
  • The University of Iowa released a statement on Twitter that the school is also monitoring the incident and looking for any helpful information.

July 22

  • Authorities announce Mollie is still missing and that nothing was found during the searches.

July 23

  • Dalton tells ABC he’s optimistic about Mollie’s return.
  • Laura Calderwood says her daughter is an “outgoing, fun, loving life, loving person.”
  • Poweshiek County Sheriff Thomas Kriegel announces that no one from the “tight-knit” community in Brooklyn has been missing this long.

July 25

  • Investigators continue to follow up with tips and leads.
  • The family spreads the search even further by distributing flyers across the state.
  •  Kriegel indicates Mollie could have possibly been abducted.

July 26

  • Investigators search two hog farms after following up on tips, but the searches yield no results.
  • Wayne Cheney is questioned by the FBI.
  • Authorities search Cheney’s home and cellphone.

July 27

  • Iowa Department of Public Safety released a statement announcing that there are still no suspects but authorities will continue to pursue leads and investigate.
  • A neighbor tells a local media outlet that he spotted Mollie “walking nonchalantly” down the street.

August 2

  • As authorities searched an area close to the Lincoln Wildfire Reserve in Brooklyn, Iowa, someone mowing their lawn nearby discovered a red a shirt.
  • The shirt was turned over to the FBI for evidence processing.
  • FBI reportedly asked Cheney to take a lie detector test. He refused.

August 3

  • An FBI agent goes to Cheney’s house for a second round of questioning.

August 5

  • Authorities revealed there have been “hundreds” of leads and tips into Mollie’s disappearance.
  • An Iowa woman’s body was found in Lee County, but despite speculation, police confirmed it was not Mollie, but instead a young woman named  Sadie Alvarado, who allegedly jumped out of a moving car while arguing with her boyfriend.

August 6

  • Rob Tibbetts explained why his daughter, according to his own speculations, may still be alive.
  • Tibbetts encouraged anyone responsible for Mollie’s disappearance to come forward now, before things get worse.

August 9

  • Brooklyn resident Devin Riley describes how he saw Mollie jog past him home on the evening of July 18, explaining that she was wearing a pink sports bra and running short.
  • Riley explained that he contacted police after he realized Mollie had disappeared.

August 12

  • Former FBI profiler says she thinks Mollie left with someone she knew, explaining that the “most likely scenario is that Mollie was at least somewhat familiar with the person that she went with.”

August 21

  • Authorities find a deceased body in a rural area between Deep River, Iowa, and Guernsey, Iowa. Officials stated the body is likely of Mollie Tibbetts.
  • Authorities detain Cristhian Bahena Rivera without incident. Rivera allegedly confesses to hiding Mollie’s body.
  • During a press conference, authorities announce Rivera entered the country illegally and has a federal immigration detainer.

August 22

  • Owners of a local dairy farm speak out and claim they checked Rivera’s eligibility to work in the U.S. prior to hiring him.
  • Dane Lang, co-owner of Yarrabee Farms, announced that Rivera used fraudulent identification to obtain employment at the farm.
  • A Poweshiek County judge sets River’s bond at $5 million.

August 23

  • Authorities are seen searching Rivera’s residence and its surrounding areas for a possible murder weapon.

August 24

  • Tensions run high as social media groups form in an attempt to spill anti-immigration rhetoric after the public learned Rivera is a reported undocumented immigrant.
  • The Iowa City Latino Festival spokesperson announced the annual festival would be postponed this year.

August 27

  • Suspect Cristhian Rivera hires two new defense attorneys to represent him. His former attorney withdrew from the case.
  • Rivera’s new attorneys withdrew all previous pending motions and waived Rivera’s preliminary hearing.

[Feature Photo:Cristhian Rivera, Mollie Tibbetts/Police Handout]