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Bahena Rivera Found Guilty Of First-Degree Murder In Death Of Mollie Tibbetts

Daily Digest

Friday, May 28

4:00 p.m. - Recent rains haven’t been enough to bail much of the Midwest and the High Plains out of drought

Conditions in parts of the Midwest range from abnormally dry to severe drought. The High Plains are faring worse - with pockets of exceptional drought. Dennis Todey, with the USDA Midwest Climate Hub, says even with the May rains, there just isn’t enough moisture in the soil for plants to thrive. “We are at greater risk of having problems with crops and other plants as the season goes along because there's not as much moisture available for the crops to be able to grow.”

And Todey says long term drought could also create problems for water quality. In Iowa, the amount of water flowing in the Raccoon River is just 25 percent of normal. The state’s largest water utility, in Des Moines, says it’s not suffering any consequences, but is watching the situation carefully.

2:44 p.m. - Bahena Rivera found guilty of first-degree murder in death of Mollie Tibbetts

A jury has found Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty of first degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts. The disappearance of the University of Iowa student in 2018 prompted a massive search and drew national attention.

Prosecutors had presented evidence showing Bahena Rivera admitted to having her body in his trunk, which was confirmed by DNA testing.

Speaking to reporters Friday, prosecutor Scott Brown said Tibbetts’ family is pleased with the verdict.

“That’s why we hope that, in the end, when these cases are over, we can bring a sense of justice to them. Even though we would never have the ability to bring Mollie back, we hope moving forward that they know the person that did this to her is going to be held fully accountable.”

Bahena Rivera had claimed two masked men abducted Tibbetts and forced him to participate. He faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. His attorneys say they will appeal.

This entry has been updated.

10:39 a.m. – Though disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, Latino businesses are rebounding

Although the COVID-19 pandemic hit them disproportionately harder than others, Latino business owners are feeling optimistic as the pandemic subsides.

Himar Hernandez is a community development specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. He works with many Latino-owned businesses. He says in a short time, multiple new businesses have opened.

“I would say, in terms of last year, it’s a nice growth. In terms of pre-pandemic, we're not there yet to the levels we were operating before.”

When compared to the 2008 recession, Hernandez says it looks like the businesses he works with are headed toward a speedier recovery than 13 years ago. But one problem they still face, he says, is a labor shortage.

10 a.m. - 3 additional deaths, 99 new cases of COVID-19 reported Friday

5:30 a.m. - Politico report: Finkenauer may run for U.S. Senate in 2022

Former Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer, the Democrat who lost her bid for a second term in the U.S. House last year, is reportedly considering a run for the U.S. Senate.

Finkenauer lost her 2020 race in Iowa’s first congressional district by about 2.5 percent, or a little less than 11,000 votes. According to Politico, two unnamed sources indicated Finkenauer is laying the groundwork for a U.S. Senate race in 2022.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s seventh term ends in early 2023. The 87-year-old has said he won’t announce until this fall whether he plans to run for an eighth term and put his name on the 2022 ballot.

Finkenauer, who lives in Cedar Rapids, would face a Democratic Primary if she does run for the Senate. Western Iowa farmer Dave Muhlbauer of Manilla launched his 2022 U.S. Senate campaign this week. Other Democrats are considering the race, too.

State Auditor Rob Sand recently told the Carroll Times he will not run for the U.S. Senate, but is still considering a race for governor or for re-election to a second term as state auditor.

Entry via Radio Iowa

Thursday, May 27

2:31 p.m. – Jury begins deliberations in Bahena Rivera case

Jurors have begun their deliberations in the case of Cristhian Bahena Rivera. He faces a first degree murder charge for the killing of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts, who went missing in 2018.

Taking the witness stand Wednesday, Bahena Rivera alleged it was two masked men who put Tibbetts’ body in his trunk and said they forced him, at gunpoint, to participate.

In closing statements Thursday, prosecutor Scott Brown dismissed the claims as unbelievable. “There weren’t two other guys. That’s a figment of his imagination. All of the credible evidence in this case, all of it, points at him.”

Throughout the trial, Bahena Rivera’s lawyers have tried to cast doubt on other men, including Tibbetts’ boyfriend and local sex offenders.

Attorney Chad Frese argued that public pressure pushed officers to close the case too soon, after surveillance footage led them to Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. “They had nothing for four weeks and they were excited and they cut corners and they rushed to judgement. That’s exactly why. They wanted to close this case and they wanted to close this case now.”

If found guilty, Bahena Rivera faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Entry updated at 3:17 p.m. with additional quote

1:02 p.m. – Refugees from Myanmar can apply for protected status

Some of state’s more than 10,000 refugees from Myanmar can now apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

People applying for TPS have to meet certain criteria, and, as of now, the protection lasts for only 18 months. Even though not every Iowan from Myanmar can apply for TPS, Alex Thawng, the president of the Iowa Chin Community, says this is welcome news for the people he serves.

“A lot of people may choose to stay here and apply for asylum or refugees instead of going back and risk their lives. So this is a very good program, and I think this will help a lot of people,” says Thawng.

Thawng says he personally knows some people who are interested in applying for TPS, but others are still hoping to go back to their home country.

10 a.m. - Five additional deaths, 132 new cases of COVID-19 reported Thursday

Wednesday, May 26

3 p.m. – On the stand, Bahena Rivera says armed men forced him to follow Tibbetts

Cristhian Bahena Rivera took the stand Wednesday, claiming that two armed men broke into his home and forced him to drive them around as they abducted Mollie Tibbetts.

Bahena Rivera is on trial for her murder, after leading officers to the cornfield where her body was found. But Bahena Rivera testified that it was the unidentified men who were responsible for her death, and who put her body in his trunk. Through an interpreter, Bahena Rivera said they also threatened his daughter and her mother.

“Before they leave, one of them tells me not to say anything about what had happened…that they knew Iris, and that they knew my daughter…that if I said something they would take care of them.”

Bahena Rivera recanted statements he made to police that he had “blacked out” after confronting Tibbetts. He said the threats against his family prevented him from being honest with officers but he insisted that he did not kill her.

2:56 p.m. – Local health report finds one in five Iowa households don’t have broadband access

An annual report on local health has found nearly one in five Iowa households do not have access to broadband.

The report, which is produced through the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, uses more than 30 measures to rank counties on their overall health. This is the first year it’s used access to broadband as one of those measures.

Anne Roubal is a researcher with the institute. She says access to the internet helps people apply for jobs and stay socially connected for their mental health during the pandemic.

“And then also just access basic health care things like telehealth, especially in rural or even frontier areas.”

Roubal says Iowa fell short of the report’s top benchmark of having at least 86 percent of households with broadband access.

“Iowa, as a state, is only at 81 percent. So that's still 5 percent less than what we would want them to be at.”

The report found the percentage of households with broadband access in Iowa varies from 89 percent in Dallas County to 65 percent in Davis County.

12:30 p.m. - Memorial Day travel numbers projected to be up

The holiday weekend ahead is projected to be one of the busiest for Iowa’s highways in many months.

Meredith Mitts, a spokesperson for AAA Iowa, says they’re predicting more than 37 million people nationwide will be traveling over the three-day Memorial Day weekend.

Mitts says, “That’s still 14 percent below pre-pandemic levels, but a significant step in the right direction toward traveling.”

There’s “pent-up demand” for travel this weekend, as Mitts says there’s growing confidence with more people getting vaccinated against COVID-19.

“Most of the people who are planning on hitting the road for Memorial Day are hitting the road,” Mitts says. “They are going to be taking road trips and we are expecting about 34 million Americans, which is a 52 percent increase over 2020.”

That expected 34 million figure compares to the 23 million who were vacationing last Memorial Day weekend. The motor club is also projecting nearly 2.5 million Americans will be boarding planes this weekend. That’s nearly six times more than last year.

Entry via Matt Kelley for Radio Iowa

10 a.m. - 4 additional deaths, 162 new cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday

6 a.m. – Demonstrators gather in Des Moines to remember George Floyd one year later

Demonstrators gathered in downtown Des Moines Tuesday to remember George Floyd, who was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis one year ago.

The one year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder brought a mixture of emotions for demonstrators at the memorial. Some speakers talked about the global institutional changes Floyd’s death inspired, while others, like West Des Moines Councilwoman Renee Hardman, hit a more somber note. Hardman is the first Black councilwoman for the city. She says people need to continue working for a better future in honor of Floyd.

“We as an individual collective owe it to Mr. George Floyd to walk because he could not get up, to stand because he could not stand up.”

Speakers urged listeners to remember Floyd and the legacy he left behind in the name of civil justice. Reverend Rob Johnson, the director of No Justice No Peace, was one of the hosts of the event.

“We want to make sure that we commemorate this moment, that on this day one year ago, something in the middle of COVID in the middle of a pandemic happened to our community,” Johnson says. “It may have happened three and a half hours up the road. But it still happened here as well.”

Tuesday, May 25

4:12 p.m. - Defense tries to cast doubt on others during Bahena Rivera trial

Defense attorneys for Cristhian Bahena Rivera again sought to cast doubt on others for the killing of Mollie Tibbetts at trial Tuesday.

The defense called Tibbetts’ boyfriend Dalton Jack for further questioning.

Prosecutors had already called on Jack to testify about his relationship with Tibbetts, who went missing in 2018. Jack acknowledged he cheated on her and had given inconsistent statements to law enforcement.

On Tuesday, a defense attorney questioned Jack at length about an affair he had with another woman and messages he sent to Tibbetts referencing his anger issues.

But prosecutor Scott Brown sought to clear Jack in his own line of questioning.

“Did you place cornstalks on her body in order to conceal her from anyone that may be looking?”

“No I did not.”

“Mr. Jack, did you have anything at all to do with the disappearance or murder of Mollie Tibbetts?”


The jury is expected to begin deliberations this week.

2:49 p.m. - 81 of Iowa’s 99 counties did not accept new doses of COVID-19 vaccines this week

The majority of Iowa’s counties did not accept any COVID-19 vaccine doses this week.

This week, state health officials say they accepted just 12 percent of its weekly allotment from the federal government. Eighty-one of Iowa’s 99 counties didn’t accept any new doses this week.

Polk County is one of them. County health department spokesperson Nola Aigner-Davis says county officials have been taking a more targeted approach to try to increase vaccination rates.

“We continue to work really heavily with some of our communities whose English may not be their first language, and to address any cultural, medical or religious barriers,” says Aigner-Davis. “We're doing this a lot in our ethnic based community organizations.”

Greene County Health Department Director Becky Wolf says about 40 percent of Greene County’s total population has been fully vaccinated. But despite targeting groups like those who are homeless and Spanish-speakers, they haven’t been able to move that number for two weeks. “There's still people out there that, unfortunately are, are basing their decision to get vaccinated on inaccurate information.”

According to the New York Times, 43 percent of Iowa’s total population is fully vaccinated, ranking it sixteenth in the nation.

2:23 p.m. - Governor approves budget bill with money for broadband improvements

Gov. Kim Reynolds has signed a budget bill that includes $100 million for state grants to companies that extend broadband to areas of the state that don’t have service — or to significantly improve slow broadband speeds in other areas.

“Areas of the state with the least connectivity today will soon experience a significant improvement in high-speed internet,” Reynolds said recently, “and gain access to high tech, high touch services that come along with it.”

Reynolds said there’s “a glaring need” and this money, along with another bill that outlines grant specifications, addresses it.

“The state of Iowa’s broadband infrastructure is about to reverse quickly and dramatically,” Reynolds said.

The move got bipartisan support in the legislature. However, Rep. Chris Hall, D-Sioux City, said the state could have used $100 million in federal pandemic relief money rather than state tax dollars. “We know that the use of those funds for broadband expansion is accepted, and that it is the best ways that we can keep our General Fund dollars also flexible,” Hall said during House debate.

Reynolds had asked legislators for $150 million, and she plans to use $50 million in pandemic relief money along with $100 million in state money to reach that goal.

Senate Democratic Leader Zach Wahls, of Coralville, unsuccessfully sought to create a new state commission, similar to the Iowa Transportation Commission, to review grant applications “to facilitate strategic plan to rapidly connect Iowa households and evaluate grant applications for the new broadband program.”

Republicans say the state’s Office of the Chief Information Officer has handled previous rounds of broadband expansion grants, and it makes sense to keep that office in charge of this next round of funding. Reynolds plans to ask the 2022 Iowa legislature to provide an additional $300 million more state dollars for the program in each of the next two years.

Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa

12:28 p.m. – DRI to offer intake hours in Spanish

A group that advocates for people with disabilities is extending its reach to Spanish speakers in the state.

Disability Rights Iowa (DRI) has started intake hours exclusively in Spanish. Advocates say this is just the first step in a long term goal to make sure all Iowans have access to DRI resources.

Charissa Flege is a staff attorney at DRI. She says when one group has better access, it causes a ripple effect for everyone else.

“If you look at our community as a whole, we all do better when everybody's needs are met, when everybody has access to employment.”

Along with the exclusive phone hours, DRI is collaborating with the Office of Latino Affairs in a disability awareness campaign.

Help hours in Spanish will be held for two hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays

12:18 p.m. - Defense makes opening statements in Bahena Rivera trial

The defense made opening statements Tuesday in the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who faces a first degree murder charge for the 2018 killing of Mollie Tibbetts.

His attorneys argue that investigators were under intense public pressure to close the case, and that they didn’t fully vet the evidence, suggesting others may have been involved in Tibbetts’ death.

Consultant Michael Spence testified that it appears other people’s DNA was found in the trunk of Bahena Rivera’s car, in addition to Tibbetts’ and his own.

“There are other contributors there, and you can even, in some instances, as I pointed out, you can deduce that they were likely from a female in one instance, in one area 58. And then there was male DNA in another area that was unaccounted for.”

Prosecutors have argued that the evidence of Tibbetts’ blood in Bahena Rivera’s car and his admissions to officers implicate him in her murder.

Jury deliberations are expected to begin this week.

10 a.m. - 169 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Iowa Tuesday

6 a.m. - New projection of Iowa restaurant, bar closures during pandemic

The CEO of the Iowa Restaurant Association says updated information suggests fewer restaurants and bars in Iowa have closed during the pandemic than was expected. Jessica Dunker says initial estimates indicated about 1,000 restaurants and bars in Iowa that were operating in March of 2020 would close.

“We’re projecting now that it’s probably going to be closer to 700, which is more in the 12 percent range,” Dunker says, “and we’ll take that.”

Dunker says restaurants and bars fared better here than in other states for a combination of reasons, including state grants along with federal Paycheck Protection Program grants. Iowa restaurants and bars were also allowed to reopen for in-person service sooner than in other states.

“There’s pent up demand. Our biggest problem is we can’t find people to work,” Dunker says. “But the customers are coming out and summer is summer, so we’re optimistic.”

Dunker says part of the workforce problem is that 20 years ago, just over one-third of high-school students had a part-time job, whereas today it’s about 20 percent.

“We have to get creative as an industry to attract people into those first jobs,” Dunker says. “One-in-three people had their first job with us. We’d like one-in-three Iowans who are 16 today to have a job with us.”

Dunker says another factor is that many of the employees who were laid off a year ago when Iowa restaurants and bars were shutdown because of the pandemic are not returning.

“We lost people — great customer service people — to phone jobs, to Amazon, to everyone because everyone was hiring and you love people with great people skills and that’s us,” Dunker says, “so we were easy pickings.”

Dunker made her comments during a recent appearance on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS.

Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa

Monday, May 24

4:20 p.m. – State calls final witnesses in Bahena Rivera trial

Prosecutors have rested their case against Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who faces a first degree murder charge in the death of Mollie Tibbetts in 2018. The state called its final witnesses Monday, including some who detailed the autopsy of Tibbetts’ remains.

During questioning, state medical examiner Dennis Klein testified that Tibbetts died of multiple stab wounds, including one that penetrated her skull.

Attorney: “How many total knife wounds did you see? Did you calculate?”
Klein: “Yes, so my calculation is nine definitive wounds. I suspect up to 12.”

Officers have testified that Bahena Rivera admitted to chasing Tibbetts and hiding her body in a cornfield. The jury is expected to begin its deliberations this week.

2:02 p.m. – Linn County Board of Supervisors votes to end county mask mandate

The Linn County Board of Supervisors voted Monday to end the county’s mask mandate.

The decision will take effect immediately. The requirement applied only to county buildings, and local businesses can still require masks if they choose.

Linn County is the most recent local jurisdiction in Iowa to end its mask mandate.

Earlier this month, the CDC issued new guidance that says fully vaccinated people do not need to wear masks or socially distance in most circumstances.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law into effect last week that bans cities and counties from mandating masks if it affects private property. It also prohibits school districts from requiring them.

12:30 p.m. - Farmer, former Crawford County Supervisor Muhlbauer running for U.S. Senate

A western Iowa farmer whose father and grandfather were state legislators is running for the U.S. Senate in 2022. Thirty-seven-year-old Dave Muhlbauer of Manilla released a video this morning to make the announcement.

“I grew up a Democrat,” he said in the video. “My dad was a Democrat. My grandpa Louis was a Democrat. We are the old-school farming-labor Democrats. We’re for the middle class.”

Muhlbauer is a former Crawford County supervisor who raises cattle and hogs on a farm near Manilla. In the video, Muhlbauer said he’s running, in part, because he realized it’s now or never, after his father, Dan, died last October. Muhlbauer plans to campaign in nine Iowa cities “in the coming days.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley has said he’ll announce this fall whether he will seek reelection to an eighth term.

Entry via O. Kay Henderson for Radio Iowa

10 a.m. - 55 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Iowa

7 a.m. – Researchers find nearly 18,000 U.S. deaths are tied to air pollution from agriculture

Feedlots don’t just stink up your car. According to one new study, they’re also a major driver of air pollution across the country.

A study by the University of Minnesota found nearly 18,000 U.S. deaths each year are tied to air pollution from agriculture. The report is the first to connect farming-related health effects like heart attacks, cardiovascular problems and cancer to specific operations.

Senior author Jason Hill at the University of Minnesota says 80 percent of those deaths are related to livestock production.

“This isn't saying we can do without food, by any means. This is saying, you know, let's think about what foods we eat and how and where we produce them,” says Hill. “And because there may be some other real benefits to us if we have that discussion.”

The study says pollution is a nationwide problem, but the risks are highest for counties upwind of farms in the Corn Belt, California, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Researchers predicted changes by growers and consumers, like eating less meat and adopting precision agriculture, could each cut pollution-related deaths by at least half.

6 a.m. – U Iowa researchers work with mobile health center to survey the state’s migrant workers

University of Iowa researchers are working with a local nonprofit to figure out the best way to gather and communicate health information to the state’s 7,000 migrant workers.

Claudia Corwin is a professor at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. She says researchers are working with Proteus, a federally qualified mobile health center. They’re using a mobile app to send out surveys with one or two questions about mental health, chronic conditions and the COVID-19 vaccine.

“What the worker will do is they will simply text back a single word response, they'll have a choice. And then in the background, the app will be collecting and organizing all the data.”

Corwin says the main focus of the study is to see if this method is a feasible way to communicate with workers. She says they are challenging to reach because they are so mobile and many do not speak English.

“Many of these workers, Spanish is even the secondary language. Many workers have indigenous languages that they speak primarily,” Corwin says.

6 a.m. - Bahena Rivera trial could conclude this week

The trial of the man accused of killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts could conclude as soon as this week.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera faces a first degree murder charge for the 2018 killing.

Prosecutors have said DNA evidence and Bahena Rivera’s statements to law enforcement will be central to their case against him. Last week, officers testified he admitted to killing Tibbetts and hiding her body in a cornfield. And an analyst testified that blood found in the suspect’s car matches Tibbetts’ DNA.

The prosecution is expected to call more witnesses this week, including a forensics expert and a state medical examiner.

The case could go to the jury for deliberation by the end of the week.

5 a.m. - Taxes, Masks, & Sine Die

The 2021 legislative session ended after agreements between the House and Senate on tax and budget proposals. In the final week, a large omnibus tax bill passed both chambers. It includes a section to remove backfill payments to cities and counties.

Hours before the session adjourned, a bill prohibiting mandates for masks and face coverings in schools and private businesses was introduced. It passed, and around midnight, was signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds. It was effective immediately, making some mask mandates across the state unenforceable Thursday morning.

Hear more about the final week of the 2021 legislative session from Under the Golden Dome.

Sunday, May 23

10 a.m. - 115 new cases of COVID-19 reported Sunday in Iowa

Saturday, May 22

10 a.m. - 10 additional deaths, 170 new cases of COVID-19 reported Saturday