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The man suspected of killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts said on the stand Wednesday that two masked men had actually killed the 19-year-old after taking him hostage.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 26, who is facing first-degree murder charges in Tibbetts’ death, told jurors that he had just gotten out of the shower the evening of July 18, 2018 when he was surprised to find two masked men, one who was armed with a gun and another carrying a knife, at his home on the Yarrabee Farms property where he lived in Poweshiek County, according to The Des Moines Register.
“They said that I shouldn’t do anything stupid and everything was gonna be OK,” he testified. “They’re just, they’re whispering, and we were there for a long while.”
Bahena Rivera, who gave his first public account of the crime through a translator while on the stand, said the men forced him into his own car and asked him to drive around Brooklyn, Iowa until they spotted Tibbetts jogging along the road.
He admitted it had been his vehicle seen circling Tibbetts in surveillance footage subsequently discovered by investigators, but said he had been following the orders of the two men beside him in the car.
Bahena Rivera testified that the man who had been carrying a knife got out of the car and disappeared down the road, before returning about 10 minutes later, The Associated Press reports. While Bahena Rivera and the second man waited in the car, he said he heard the second man say “Come on, Jack.”
When the man returned, Bahena Rivera said he put something heavy into the trunk and the two men instructed him to drive several miles down the road, pull over and wait for a few minutes before he could leave.
Bahena Rivera claimed the two men, who he didn’t know, threatened to harm his ex-girlfriend and his daughter if he didn’t cooperate, allegedly telling him “that if I said something, they would take care of them,” he said.
Bahena Rivera, who came to the country illegally at the age of 17 on an inflatable raft, said that his desire to protect his daughter had been the reason he later told investigators he had blacked out after fighting with Tibbetts along the road.
Bahena Rivera said the men ran off toward a gravel road and he never saw them again—but discovered Tibbetts’ body in the trunk a few minutes later.
He said he took the body out and placed into a cornfield because he “didn’t want her to be too exposed to the sun.”
He testified that he placed her phone, Fitbit and earbuds along the side of the road and then drove off, according to The Associated Press.
During cross examination, Prosecutor Scott Brown questioned why Rivera never took any opportunity to report what had happened to investigators, who may have been able to provide protection to his child or ex-girlfriend.
He also questioned how the two men had gotten to his home or left the corn field since they didn’t have a vehicle of their own.
“And these two men just disappeared?” he asked.
Although Bahena Rivera said he didn’t know the two men who allegedly forced him into the car that night, throughout the trial his defense team has tried to direct suspicion toward Tibbetts’ boyfriend, Dalton Jack, who told investigators he had been out of town in Dubuque for work the night his girlfriend was killed.
On Thursday morning, Brown called Jack’s coworker Nick Wilson as a rebuttal witness to testify that Jack had been working on a bridge repair project in Dubuque along with a construction crew when Tibbetts disappeared, The Des Moines Register reports.
Wilson testified that the crew was staying at the Days Inn in Dubuque and had all been together grilling and drinking beer on July 18.
Wilson also spotted Jack the next day and remembered he seemed quiet, before later telling his coworkers he hadn’t been able to get a hold of his girlfriend and was getting worried.
Jordyn Johnson, who was subpoenaed by the defense, took the stand earlier in the trial to testify about a brief affair she had with Jack during his relationship with Tibbetts.
As the witness testimony in the case concluded Thursday, the judge provided jurors with deliberation instructions before opening statements were scheduled to begin.
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