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Jury deliberating in trial for murder of Iowa student; defendant blames mystery men

Student Killed-Iowa
Posted at 11:52 AM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-27 14:52:36-04

The jurors in the trial for the 2018 abduction and stabbing death of a University of Iowa student have started their deliberations.

The defendant accused of killing 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts three years ago was called to the stand on Wednesday to testify in his first-degree murder trial.

While on the stand, Cristhian Bahena Rivera claimed for the first time that two masked men were responsible for the crime and they forced him to take part at gunpoint.

Bahena Rivera admitted that his car was the one seen on surveillance video circling Tibbetts while she ran in Brooklyn, Iowa on July 18, 2018. He also acknowledged that the college student ended up in the trunk of his vehicle and that he hid her body in a cornfield.

However, the farmworker denied that he was responsible for stabbing Tibbetts to death.

Student Killed Iowa
FILE - In this September 2016 file photo provided by Kim Calderwood, Mollie Tibbetts poses for a picture during homecoming festivities at BGM High School in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. (Kim Calderwood via AP, File)

The defense rested later Wednesday and closing arguments were delivered on Thursday.

During the closing arguments, a prosecuting attorney urged jurors to find Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder in the case. Prosecutor Scott Brown said the trial’s testimony revealed “overwhelming evidence” that Bahena Rivera is guilty.

Brown called Bahena Rivera’s testimony that two men kidnapped him at gunpoint and forced him to take part in the crime “a figment of his imagination,” saying he concocted the story to try to explain away damning evidence.

A defense lawyer said prosecutors had failed to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.

The defense has painted Bahena Rivera as a hard-working, family-centered immigrant from Mexico who was pressured into making a false confession.

Jennifer Frese, a lawyer for the defendant, told jurors in her opening statement that their hearts should break for Tibbetts. But she says authorities conducted an incomplete investigation into her death and were too quick to close the case.

After the closing arguments, the jurors began deliberating on Thursday.