MONTEZUMA, Ia. — The man charged with first-degree murder in the
death of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts pleaded not
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, appeared before District Court
Judge Joel Yates at the Poweshiek County Courthouse on
Wednesday, where his charge was formally read to him.
He said very little, listening through headphones as the hearing
was translated into Spanish. Speaking through an interpreter, he
confirmed his lawyer's statement that he would enter the not
Bahena Rivera also waived his right to have a trial within 90
days. Yates scheduled his trial for April 16, 2019.
The entire proceeding lasted 10 minutes.
Chad Frese, one of Bahena Rivera's lawyers, said his client was
nervous ahead of the hearing, "but he's anxious to get this
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, he would not say
whether the defense team would request to move the trial out of
"We will analyze that as the evidence comes in and time goes on,
but this has got a lot of publicity," he said. "That’s certainly
No matter where the trial takes place, they'll need to find
somewhere with 12 impartial jurors who can hear the case, he
Prosecutors declined to answer questions from reporters
following the hearing.
Bahena Rivera's arrest ended a five-week search for Tibbetts,
20, of Brooklyn, Iowa, after he led investigators to her body,
which was covered in cornstalks in a field in rural Poweshiek
County near the town of Guernsey.
He faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if
Police have said Bahena Rivera told them he pursued Tibbetts in
his car while she was jogging that night, before parking,
getting out of the car and running behind and alongside her.
When Tibbetts told Bahena Rivera she was going to call the
police, he "panicked and got mad," according to a criminal
"He then 'blocked' his 'memory' which is what he does when he
gets very upset," the complaint states. "And doesn't remember
anything after that until he came to at an intersection."
An autopsy found she died of "multiple sharp force injuries."
Frese declined to discuss the defense strategy he will pursue at
trial, but defense attorneys unconnected to the case have said
one possibility is that Bahena Rivera's claim of memory loss —
if it can be documented — could open the door to the defense of
diminished responsibility. That defense would require Bahena
Rivera to admit to killing Tibbetts, but argue that due to his
mental state, he was not able to form the intent to kill her
that prosecutors must prove for a first-degree murder charge.
Authorities say Bahena Rivera is a Mexican immigrant who was in
the country illegally.
Officials at Yarrabee Farms, where he worked for four years, say
he used an out-of-state photo ID and Social Security number to
secure employment at the Poweshiek County dairy farm, and they
believed he was the person shown in those documents until his
Federal immigration officials visited the farm for two hours
earlier this month to meet with employees and owners. No federal
immigration charges have been filed against Bahena Rivera or
Frese said the immigration question "has nothing to do with this
"Our focus is Cristhian’s charge that he’s facing and the death
of this woman," Frese said. "Whether or not he’s an illegal or
legal immigrant really has nothing to do with the facts of this
case, so we don’t want to get into that argument at all."