Jury weighs fate of suspect in killing of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts after prosecutor cites “overwhelming evidence”

A prosecutor urged jurors Thursday to find a farm laborer guilty of first-degree murder in the 2018 abduction and stabbing death of a University of Iowa student who disappeared while out for a run.

Prosecutor Scott Brown said in a closing argument that the testimony revealed “overwhelming evidence” that Cristhian Bahena Rivera is guilty of murder in the death of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts. The jury began deliberations Thursday afternoon following closing arguments from prosecutors and the defense team after a two-week trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport.

Brown called Bahena Rivera’s testimony that two men kidnapped him at gunpoint and forced him to take part in the crime “a figment of his imagination,” saying he concocted the story to try to explain away damning evidence.

Brown said the evidence shows that Bahena Rivera drove past Tibbetts while she was running on the evening of July 18, 2018, in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. He said Bahena Rivera found her attractive, tracked her down on a rural road and approached her as she ran.

Brown said that Tibbetts rebuked Bahena Rivera’s advances and threatened to call the police, which made him angry.

“The way he reacts with that anger is to stab this young woman to death and to dump her body in a cornfield,” said Brown, an assistant attorney general.

Bahena Rivera knew for five weeks where he had hidden Tibbetts’ body under corn stalks in a remote cornfield, as investigators worked to try to find out what had caused the “sweet young woman” to disappear, Brown said.

Defense attorney Chad Frese called Tibbetts a “spectacular young woman” and said her death was tragic, reports CBS station KCCI, but urged jurors not to allow emotions into the deliberation room. He called investigators’ case “sloppy” and said they were under an immense amount of pressure to close the case with national media attention and weeks with no leads.

“Some of this investigation was sloppy, but it really got sloppy when Cristhian Bahena Rivera was targeted,” Frese said. “They closed a case, but they didn’t solve a case.”

Frese said investigators “spoon-fed” a story to Bahena-Rivera during his interrogation and suggested Tibbetts’ boyfriend may have been involved.

Earlier Thursday, prosecutors had called one rebuttal witness to establish an alibi for the boyfriend, Dalton Jack.

Jack worked on a bridge project in Dubuque, Iowa, until 7 p.m. on July 18, 2018, about an hour before Tibbetts was abducted and killed in their hometown of Brooklyn, his former supervisor Nick Wilson testified.

Wilson’s testimony suggested that Jack would not have been able to be in Brooklyn when Tibbetts disappeared. Brooklyn is about 140 miles away from Dubuque, or more than a two-hour drive.

Wilson said that after Jack got off of work, he grilled and drank beer with other crew members at a hotel that evening and was at work the next morning at 5:30 a.m.

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