IOWA CITY, IA – An illegal immigrant who had been convicted of kidnapping and killing 20 year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts in 2018 was handed down a life sentence in prison without the possibility of parole on Monday by the judge presiding over the unfortunate case.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 27, an undocumented farmworker from Mexico, had been found guilty in May of first-degree murder; in addition to the life sentence imposed on Monday, Poweshiek County District Court Judge Joel Yates also ordered Bahena Rivera to pay the Tibbetts family $150,000 in restitution for their loss.
“Mr. Bahena Rivera, you and you alone forever changed the lives of those who loved Mollie Tibbetts,” Yates said.
Tibbetts disappeared on July 18, 2018 after having gone jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa; the search for her whereabouts went on for a month, and eventually reward money for information had grown to almost $400,000.
Bahena Rivera became a suspect in Tibbetts’ case after a car he had been driving was caught on surveillance video repeatedly circling the neighborhood that the victim was last seen alive in. He later told investigators that he had made a pass at Tibbetts while she was jogging but that she rejected his advances and threatened to call the authorities.
Police reported that Tibbetts had been killed by multiple stab wounds, but Bahena Rivera maintained that he had “blacked out” and didn’t remember attacking her. Despite that, he reportedly told investigators that he remembered stashing her body in the trunk of his car afterwards and later burying her in a cornfield; Bahena Rivera later led authorities there, where Tibbetts’ body was recovered.
However, during his trial, Bahena Rivera shockingly about-faced during his testimony, claiming that he was actually framed for Tibbetts’ murder by two masked and armed men who forced him to drive while they killed the victim and buried her in the cornfield.
But the jury didn’t buy this version of events, only deliberating for seven hours over two days before finding Bahena Rivera guilty of murder.
According to a victim impact statement written by the victim’s mother, Laura Calderwood, Mollie Tibbetts “was a young woman who simply wanted to go for a quiet run on the evening of July 18 (2018) and you chose to violently and sadistically end that life.”
“Because of your act, Mollie’s father, Rob, will never get to walk his only daughter down the aisle,” she wrote. “Because of your act, Mr. Rivera, I will never get to see my daughter become a mother.”
After announcing the sentence, Judge Yates ordered Bahena Rivera transferred to the Iowa Department of Corrections to begin his sentence.