By Holly Matkin and Christopher Berg
Davenport, IA – The illegal immigrant accused of stabbing a 20-year-old woman to death and dumping her body in a cornfield is Was convicted of her murder on Friday.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 26, took the stand on the final day of his murder trial on Wednesday to present an entirely different story than the one he previously provided to police regarding the death of 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, ABC News reported.
In this version of the July 18, 2018 attack, the accused murderer painted himself as the victim of two masked kidnappers who he said framed him.
Bahena Rivera said he had just gotten out of the shower at his home that day and wandered out to his living room to find two men he did not know inside his house, ABC News reported.
“They were both wearing sweaters and their faces [were] covered,” Bahena Rivera testified with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter. “One of them was bigger and a little bit fatter. The other one was about my stature.”
He claimed the smaller man was armed with a knife and that the second suspect had a gun.
“They said I should not do anything stupid and everything was going to be okay,” the Mexican national testified.
Bahena Rivera told the court the two men forced him to drive them to Brooklyn, Iowa, using his black Chevrolet Malibu, ABC News reported.
He claimed one of his armed abductors sat next to him while the other climbed into the back seat.
“They told me to drive straight,” Bahena Rivera testified. “One of them said to the other one something about someone running.”
He said they wound up out on 385th Avenue and came upon “a person jogging” in the rural area, ABC News reported.
“We just continued driving, and then they asked me to turn around,” Bahena Rivera claimed.
He said the masked men ducked down in their seats so they couldn’t be seen as they ordered him to drive past the jogger three or four times, ABC News reported.
They then allegedly ordered him to turn around and drive towards the jogger one last time, but stopped him before the vehicle reached her.
Bahena Rivera said the smaller kidnapper jumped out of the vehicle and headed over to the jogger, who he later identified as Tibbetts, ABC News reported.
The second suspect sat in the backseat whispering “come on Jack” to himself, among other things, as they waited for between 10 and 12 minutes, Bahena Rivera alleged.
Tibbetts’ former boyfriend, Dalton Jack, had testified on the stand the day prior that he cheated on Tibbetts and that she found out about the other woman about a month before she was murdered, ABC News reported.
Bahena Rivera’s attorneys, husband-and-wife-team Jennifer and Chad Frese, have insinuated throughout the trial proceedings that Jack was somehow involved in Tibbetts’ murder, according to the news outlet.
Prosecutors shot down that notion, pointing out that Jack was at work in a town 140 miles away when Tibbetts disappeared.
Bahena Rivera testified that the smaller masked suspect eventually returned to the vehicle and had him drive forward about 1,000 feet before telling him to hand over the keys, ABC News reported.
The accused killer said the kidnapper got back out and seemed to put something into the trunk of Bahena Rivera’s car.
The man then got back in and told him to drive, he said.
Miles later, he said the suspect told him to drive down a dirt road next to a cornfield.
Bahena Rivera claimed the men got out and threatened to hurt his ex-girlfriend and his five-year-old daughter as they stole his cell phone and keys, ABC News reported.
“One of them tells me not to say anything about what happened, that they knew [my ex-girlfriend] and that they knew my daughter,” Bahena Rivera testified. “That if I said something that they would take care of them.”
The accused killer said the masked men walked out to the main road and disappeared.
When Bahena Rivera opened his trunk, he found Tibbetts inside, he testified.
“At the beginning, I saw a little bit of movement,” he told the court. “Then there was no movement.”
Bahena Rivera said he was too scared to call the police because he was afraid of what the kidnappers might do to his ex and daughter, so he pulled Tibbetts out of the trunk and dumped her body in the cornfield, covering her with leaves to prevent her from “being exposed to the sun,” ABC News reported.
He claimed the kidnappers left his keys in the trunk of his car, along with Tibbetts’ Fitbit, earbuds, and cell phone.
He dumped her items on the side of a road as he fled the area and headed home, he testified.
Bahena Rivera’s latest account varied wildly from the confession he allegedly made to police after they identified him as the prime suspect in Tibbetts’ murder.
Tibbetts’ family called the police after the 20-year-old failed to show up to work on July 19, 2018.
A massive search effort and a $400,000 reward for information about the missing University of Iowa coed dominated headlines for 34 days, The Washington Post reported.
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge Rick Rahn later announced that a body believed to be Tibbetts had been found on Aug. 21.
The more-than-a-month-long search for the missing woman came to a head a week before Bahena Rivera’s arrest, when someone who lived along the route Tibbetts was believed to have been running came forward with surveillance video that showed the young woman jogging by on the night she disappeared, Agent Rahn said.
He said investigators spent more than 100 hours scouring the video and constructing a timeline of the incident.
Through that security footage, investigators were able to identify a black Chevy Malibu that belonged to Bahena Rivera, and they were able to determine that he was following Tibbetts. Her “digital footprint” left by her fitness tracker and her cell phone also aided police in finding her killer, the agent said.
Agent Rahn said they were able to track Bahena Rivera’s vehicle and find Tibbetts running in the video on 385th Street.
He said they brought Bahena Rivera in for a lengthy interview on Aug. 20, 2018, and he readily admitted that he saw Tibbetts running and said he parked his car and got out so he could run alongside her, the agent told reporters.
Bahena Rivera told detectives that Tibbetts grabbed her phone and told him to leave her alone or she’d call the police. He told police that he became angry and chased her down, and then he claimed to have blacked out and didn’t remember what happened, Agent Rahn said.
The illegal immigrant, whom authorities said had been living in rural Poweshiek County, told police that his blackout ended near where they found Tibbett’s body at 460th Street.
Bahena Rivera said that when his blackout ended, he saw an earbud in his lap and realized he had put Tibbetts in his trunk, according to an arrest affidavit filed with the Powesheik County Clerk of Courts.
He drove to a cornfield, got out of his car, and went around to the back of the car to pull Tibbetts’ body out of the trunk.
He told police he put Tibbetts over his shoulder and carried her body about 20 meters into the cornfield, where he dropped her and camouflaged her with corn stalks.
Bahena Rivera was able to describe what Tibbetts had been wearing and other details specific to the area where the young woman’s body was found, according to The Gazette.
Prosecutor Scott Brown confronted Bahena Rivera during cross-examination on Wednesday regarding his latest account of what happened on the day Tibbetts disappeared.
Brown pointed out that Bahena Rivera never mentioned the alleged kidnappers during his interviews with investigators, which the suspect agreed was true.
Bahena Rivera also acknowledged that he had told investigators he became “angry” with Tibbetts.
But the murderer refused to admit on the stand that he stabbed Tibbetts.
Bahena Rivera was convicted of first-degree murder after about seven hours of deliberation.
Sentencing will take place on July 15th.
He faces life in prison if he is convicted, CBS News reported.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, Bahena Rivera had been in the United States illegally for “between four and seven years,” at the time of Tibbett’s murder, ABC News reported.