A man accused of kidnapping and stabbing a University of Iowa student in 2018 says for the first time in overwhelming evidence that two masked men are facing charges but forced him to take part in a gunshot wound.
Surprisingly, the defense called Cristhian Bahena Rivera as a witness in his first murder case. He admitted that his black car was the one seen in the video surrounding Mollie Tibbetts while running in Brooklyn, Iowa, on July 18, 2018. He also admitted that he ended up in the trunk of his car, and that he hid it in his cornfield body and told investigators where to find it a month later.
But the farm worker presented a very different story than what the investigators and prosecutors had claimed, denying that he was the one who caused Tibbetts' head, neck and chest injuries that caused his death.
Bahena Rivera said two armed men dressed in black and their faces covered with stockings emerged from his caravan after finishing bathing that night. The men ordered him to get into his car and drive, passing Tibbetts as he ran several times before ordering him to stop, he said.
Bahena Rivera, 26, said a man with a knife got out of a car and drove through a rural road. The man had been walking for about 10 minutes as a second man sitting in the back seat of the car panicked, saying, “Come on Jack,” he said.
Defendant said he did not know who the men were, but his lawyers tried to raise suspicions about Tibbetts' boyfriend, Dalton Jack, who admitted to having an affair with another woman and previous anger issues. Police said they dismissed Jack as a suspect after discovering he was not in town for the day.
Bahena Rivera said the men loaded something into his bin, ordering him to drive a few miles to a rural area, turn off the car, wait a few seconds and then leave. They said they knew his ex-girlfriend and his young daughter, and that they would hurt them if he ever told anyone what had happened, he said.
Bahena Rivera said the men were walking down the road and never saw them again. He said he opened the trunk a few minutes later and found Tibbetts' body, which he said survived as he carried it to a corn field.
Photo: Mollie Tibbetts was reported missing in her hometown east of Iowa city in Brooklyn on July 19, 2018.
Mollie Tibbetts is reported missing in her hometown east of Iowa city of Brooklyn on July 19, 2018. Jenny Fiebelkorn
He said he covered his body with corn cobs because "I didn't want him to be too exposed to the sun," and that he left and never planned to discuss what had happened again. Bahena Rivera said he had left Tibbetts' phone, Fitbit and earbuds on the side of the road.
Bahena Rivera said he was not truthful when investigators first questioned him about the disappearance of Tibbetts on August 20, 2018, because he was concerned about his daughter's safety. He said at the time he was close to Tibbetts when he ran away, fought with him after he threatened to call the police and then "darkened" before hiding his body.
He said he had agreed to lead investigators into Tibbetts' body on the morning of August 21 because he was tired and wanted an investigation. He also said police had urged him to "put himself in a family situation and imagine" how he would feel if his daughter went missing.
Bahena Rivera recounted his upbringing in southern Mexico and illegally coming to the U.S. After covering 17 years, he crossed the river to Texas on an inflatable raft with about ten people. He soon moved to Iowa, where his father's brothers were based, and he found work in a few days milking cows on a dairy farm, he said.
Bahena Rivera said he worked 12-hour days and was careful to avoid police for fear of deportation. He said he had never contacted law enforcement until investigators investigating Tibbetts' disappearance found his car in a video guarding the homeowner on his runway.
Many legal experts did not expect Bahena Rivera to testify, and his defense did not indicate that he would present such evidence. His lawyer Chad Frese when he was selected by the judge said he was sorry he would call his client as a witness. He said if Bahena Rivera did not testify, it would appear that he had something to hide, but also that if he did that he might be seen trying to save himself.
The judges faced their seats as Bahena Rivera took over the witness stand, and prosecutors became furious while giving evidence. Bahena Rivera showed little emotion but her voice dropped and trembled slightly as she discussed the men's threats against her daughter.
The case, which began last week, is being held at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport. Bahena Rivera faces a life sentence if convicted.