(IOWA) — The 27-year-old man convicted of first-degree murder in the 2018 abduction and killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts is scheduled to be sentenced Monday.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an undocumented farmworker from Mexico, is expected to receive a term of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Bahena Rivera was convicted in May by a jury that deliberated for seven hours over two days.
Poweshiek County District Court Judge Joel Yates postponed the sentencing date after Bahena Rivera requested a new trial based on his and his attorneys’ claim that he was framed for Tibbetts’ slaying by the real killers.
Yates denied the motion for a new trial this month following a hearing in July. In his ruling, Yates wrote, “providing an alternative suspect is only a useful strategy when it is believable.”
The 20-year-old Tibbetts vanished on July 18, 2018, while out for a jog in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. The case drew national attention as the search for Tibbetts went on for a month and a reward fund for information about her whereabouts ballooned to nearly $400,000.
Tibbetts’ body was recovered from a cornfield in Poweshiek County District after Bahena Rivera led investigators to the remains.
During Bahena Rivera’s trial, the jury heard two wildly contrasting theories of what happened to Tibbetts.
Iowa police investigators testified that they questioned Bahena Rivera after his car, a black Chevrolet Malibu, was captured on surveillance video circling the neighborhood in Brooklyn at the time Tibbetts was last seen alive jogging in the area.
During a lengthy interview, investigators testified that Bahena Rivera allegedly told them he saw Tibbetts jogging and thought she was “hot.” They said he claimed to have followed Tibbetts, gotten out of his car and jogged alongside her, but she rejected his advance and threatened to call the police.
Investigators said Tibbetts was stabbed repeatedly but that Rivera told them he blacked out and did not recall attacking her. He said he later remembered putting Tibbetts’ body in the trunk of his car when he noticed her earbuds in his lap while he was driving. He claimed, according to investigators, that he drove to the cornfield and buried Tibbetts body under leaves.
In a stunning twist, Bahena Rivera, who speaks little English, testified in his own defense at his trial, claiming he was kidnapped by two masked and armed men, who forced him to drive to where Tibbetts was jogging and one of them killed her and put her body in his car’s trunk.
He claimed he put Tibbetts’ body in the cornfield, but did not go to the police because the kidnappers threatened to harm his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his young daughter, if he spoke to authorities.
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