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Mollie Tibbetts

Mollie Tibbets: Alleged killer Cristhian Rivera says armed men forced him to kidnap slain jogger, threatened his daughter’s life

During the sixth day of testimony is his murder trial, suspect Cristhian Rivera took the stand Wednesday and denied killing University of Iowa student, Mollie Tibbetts.

According to Rivera’s testimony at the Davenport, Iowa, courthouse, two armed and masked men arrived at his home in July 2018, shortly before he was supposed to go on a date. Through a translator, Rivera said the men forced him into his Chevrolet Malibu, with one man holding a gun and the other a knife.

Rivera testified that he did what the men said and drove around until they spotted Tibbetts. He said one man sat behind him in his car, while the other one sat behind him.

When the men spotted Tibbetts, they ordered Rivera to stop the car, according to what the defendant told the court. Rivera said he waited briefly in the car and heard someone call out, “come on Jack.”

Afterward, Rivera said he heard the men opening his car trunk and dropping something or someone inside. He said the men then forced him to drive to a secluded area with cornfields.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera gestures towards a monitor as he testifies during his trial, Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa. Bahena Rivera is on trial for the 2018 stabbing death of Mollie Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student. (Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register via AP, Pool)

The men then took Rivera’s keys and phone and threatened to harm his young daughter and her mother if he said anything, according to his testimony. Rivera said he did see Tibbetts in his trunk.

“They knew Iris [his daughter’s mother] and my daughter….if I said something, they would take care of them,” Rivera said.

Since the beginning of the trial, Rivera’s defense team has been casting suspicion upon Tibbett’s boyfriend, Dalton Jack, who apparently cheated on Tibbetts before she disappeared.

The other woman, Jordyn Johnson, took the stand and said she was under the impression that Jack and Tibbetts had broken up. She added that Jack sent her text messages about getting back together.

The trial resumes Thursday morning.

Mollie Tibbetts: Disappearance and Death

On August 16, 2018, a few days before authorities found Mollie’s body, a Poweshiek sheriff’s deputy spoke with Rivera after he voluntarily pulled his black Chevrolet Malibu over after spotting the deputy following him.

Through an interpreter, Rivera initially told the deputy he knew nothing about Mollie’s disappearance. Surveillance footage provided by a local Brooklyn resident later showed a car that looked exactly like Rivera’s circling around a jogger several times on July 18, 2018, the last time Mollie was seen alive.

“During our neighborhood canvas, we came across an individual that had security cameras,” Poweshiek County Sheriff Tom Kriegel said in 2018, explaining how Rivera landed on the radar of authorities.

“He [the resident with surveillance footage] was kind enough to give us the footage from it. And through that, we were able to identify a vehicle that believe belonged to Mr. Rivera. It was a black Malibu. And from that we were able to track his pattern and the routes in which he took.”

On August 18, 2018, deputies arrived at Rivera’s workplace, at Ybarra Farms, and asked him via a Spanish interpreter if they could search his car. Rivera reportedly agreed. Rivera again voluntarily spoke with authorities, according to court documents. This time, he indicated he did see Mollie and thought she was “hot.” He also said Mollie waved “hi” to him several times.

Around the same time, investigators found blood inside Rivera’s car. At 11:30 p.m. that night, federal agents put an immigration detainer on Rivera, who’s originally from Mexico and was living undocumented in the U.S.

Throughout the rest of the interview, according to authorities, Rivera made numerous incriminating statements.

“He [Rivera] gradually shifted from a denial of killing Mollie to a claim that he ‘didn’t remember doing anything to her,’” court documents read.

Mollie, a University of Iowa student and an avid jogger who ran on the cross-country team during high school, disappeared on July 18, from Brooklyn, Iowa.

Authorities eventually charged Rivera with murder after he led them to Mollie’s deceased body, found in a cornfield around 12 miles southeast of Brooklyn, according to an arrest affidavit.

A poster for missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts hangs in the window of a local business, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, in Brooklyn, Iowa. Tibbetts was reported missing from her hometown in the eastern Iowa city of Brooklyn in July 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

“The defendant led police directly to Mollie’s body at the conclusion of the interview, he was seen in proximity to Mollie while she was running on the last night of her life, and Mollie’s blood was found in the trunk of the Defendant’s car,” the prosecution wrote.

“All of these facts are extrinsic to the interview and independently establish the defendant was the killer, not a false confessor.”

Rivera reportedly told investigators that he spotted Mollie jogging near Middle and Boundary Streets, 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, according to investigators.

FILE – In this Aug. 22, 2018, file photo, Cristhian Bahena Rivera is escorted into the Poweshiek County Courthouse for his initial court appearance in Montezuma, Iowa. Rivera is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts, who disappeared July 18 from Brooklyn, Iowa. Rivera pleaded not guilty during a court appearance Wednesday, Sept. 19. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

Rivera allegedly 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 allegedly said he pulled Mollie out of the trunk and dragged her by foot into a secluded area in the woods.

Rivera then tossed Mollie 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, the affidavit read.

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[Feature Photo: Mollie Tibbetts/Handout