In stunning first-time testimony, the man accused of killing an Iowa coed and leaving her in a cornfield says it was actually two masked men who kidnapped him and forced him to cover up their murder.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera took the witness stand on May 26 as he faces a murder charge in connection to the death of Mollie Tibbetts. The trial is being streamed online by various media outlets.
Rivera, an illegal immigrant, is accused of killing the 20-year-old University of Iowa student as she was out for a run in 2018. Her body was left in a cornfield and she wasn’t found for five weeks.
When Tibbetts went missing her case garnered national attention and fueled discussions about immigration policy after Rivera was charged.
When he was arrested, Rivera spoke to police detectives and described how he saw Tibbetts running and grew angry when she tried to fight back. He then took investigators to her remains in a cornfield.
On May 26, Rivera told a different story, one that seemed to leave prosecutors flabbergasted.
Rivera said he exited the shower to find two masked, armed men in his home. They forced him to drive where they saw Tibbetts running. One of the men killed Tibbetts and put her body in the trunk of Rivera’s car, the suspect testified.
The trio drove again and eventually stopped next to a white house in a cornfield. There, the men took Rivera’s electronics and threatened to harm his family. Rivera took Tibbett’s body out of the trunk and left her in the cornfield.
"At the beginning, I saw a little bit of movement. Then there was no movement," Rivera said via a translator from the witness said.
He said he covered the body with corn to protect it from the sun.
The two assailants then left Rivera, his car and ran from the scene. Rivera testified he was afraid to call or tell police because of what might happen to his family. Rivera said he agreed to take police investigators to the remains because he was tired from their hours-long interview.
“Most importantly, they asked me to put myself in the family’s position and to think ‘what if she was my daughter. What would I have done?” Rivera testified.
Rivera’s claims seemed to leave prosecutors dumbfounded as they questioned the new allegations and why they were never shared before Rivera took the witness stand. During cross-examination, Rivera admitted he didn’t know how the men got to his home or where they went after the cornfield.
At one point, a prosecutor asked Rivera if he killed Tibbetts and the murder suspect said, “no.”
His testimony was one of the final pieces of evidence during the trial as the defense rested its case. It will soon be up to a jury to decide if they believe Rivera’s claims or if he is a cold-blooded murderer.