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Man Charged In Tibbetts Killing Pleads Not Guilty

cristhian bahena rivera
Kelsey Kremer
Des Moines Register
Cristhian Bahena Rivera appears at his arraignment with his attorneys and interpreter at the Poweshiek County Courthouse Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018.

The man accused of killing Mollie Tibbetts pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder Wednesday at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma.

County Attorney Bart Klaver formally read the charge against 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera in court.

Said defendant on or about July 18, 2018 in Poweshiek County, Iowa, did murder Mollie Tibbets in violation of Iowa Code,” Klaver said.

“Mr. [Bahena] Rivera pleads not guilty,” said Chad Frese, attorney for the defendant.

Bahena Rivera, communicating through an interpreter, confirmed his not guilty plea.

Eighth District Judge Joel Yates scheduled the trial start for April 16, 2019.

After the arraignment, Frese declined to provide details about his defense strategy. He said he may consider trying to move the trial to another county because the case has been highly publicized.

“We have to find a place, no matter if it’s Poweshiek County or any place else, where we can find a jury of 12 people that can hear the case impartially,” Frese told reporters.

He also emphasized that Bahena Rivera’s immigration status has nothing to do with the facts of the case.

“Our focus is Cristhian’s charge that he’s facing, and the death of this woman,” Frese said.

Federal officials say Bahena Rivera is in the country illegally, and some politicians have called for tougher immigration enforcement as a result.

Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, was missing for more than a month after she was last seen jogging in Brooklyn, Iowa. Investigators said Bahena Rivera led them to her body in a cornfield southeast of town on August 21.

A first-degree murder conviction in Iowa carries a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter