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As Mollie Tibbetts’ Accused Killer Is Placed on Trial, Legal Expert Warns First Major Problem Primed to Surface

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Almost three years after 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts was found dead in an Iowa cornfield, the illegal immigrant accused of killing her will go on trial.

Jury selection in the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who is charged with first-degree murder, begins May 17.

Tibbetts was last seen alive on July 18, 2018, when she went out for a run. Her body was not found until August 21 after a flurry of national attention placed a larger spotlight on the case.

The trial was moved out of Iowa’s Poweshiek County to Davenport in Scott County because of all the publicity surrounding the case.

One legal expert said finding unbiased jurors will be hard, according to KCRG-TV.


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“They will be asked whether they’ve heard about it. And they will be asked whether they’ve formed views,” Professor James Tomkovicz of the University of Iowa Law College said.

“And you know if they say they’ve formed views and they can’t put those aside and listen to the evidence and decide based on that, then they’re not, they’re going to be disqualified for cause.”

Tomkovicz said jurors do not need to have never heard about the case, but they need to be able to make a judgment based on the trial’s evidence alone.

That could be hard. Former President Donald Trump was among those who weighed in on the case after it was revealed that Rivera was an illegal immigrant.

Will there ever be justice for Mollie Tibbetts?

“You saw what happened to that incredible young woman,” he said at a 2018 rally, according to Fox News. “Should have never happened.”

He noted that the suspect in the case was “illegally in our country. We’ve had a huge impact but the laws are so bad. The immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting them changed.”

Rivera came to the attention of police when they connected him to a car that was seen driving near Tibbetts as she was running, according to the Des Moines Register.

According to a police affidavit in the case, “Rivera admitted to making contact with a female running in Brooklyn and that he pursued her in his vehicle in an area east of Brooklyn, Poweshiek County, Iowa. Defendant Rivera stated he parked the vehicle, got out and was running behind her and along side of her.”

“Rivera stated she grabbed her phone and said ‘I’m gonna call the police’. Rivera said he then panicked and got mad and that he then ‘blocked’ his ‘memory’ which is what he does when he gets very upset and doesn’t remember anything after that until he came to at an intersection,” the affidavit said.


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“Rivera stated he then made a u-turn, drove back to an entrance to a field and then drove into a driveway to a cornfield. He noticed there was an ear piece from headphones in his lap and that is how he realized he put her in the trunk. He went to get her out of the trunk and he noticed blood on the side of her head,” it continued.

“The Defendant Rivera described the female’s clothing, that she was wearing including an ear phone or head phone set. and The defendant further described during the interview that he dragged Tibbetts on foot from his vehicle to a secluded location in a cornfield,” the affidavit said.

It noted that Rivera later led police to the location where “he left her covered in some corn leaves and that he left her there, face up.”

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