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Mollie Tibbetts’ accused killer, in the US illegally, will soon stand trial for college student’s death

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A trial with interesting immigration implications is set to begin for the murder of Mollie Tibbets on Monday in Scott County, Iowa.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an illegal immigrant originally from Mexico, has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Tibbetts. If convicted, Rivera could spend life in prison without parole. At the time of Tibbets death, Rivera was working at a dairy farm under a false name. He allegedly came to the United States as a child.

Tibbits went out for a late evening jog on July 18, 2018, in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa but the 20-year-old University of Iowa student never returned home. Officials received hundreds of leads and spent a little over a month searching for Tibbetts before they finally discovered her body in a cornfield on August 21, 2018. Autopsy reports indicated that her body had “multiple sharp force injuries.”

According to police, Rivera confessed and led them to Tibbetts’ remains. However, Rivera claims he was coerced into confessing that he confronted and attacked her. His defense claims that Rivera didn’t understand his Miranda Rights due to his “very limited Mexican education,” and his “constitutional rights” were violated.

The trial has been delayed multiple times due to Covid -19 according to the Des Moines Register. There were also delays due to a request to the Iowa Supreme Court to review the defense.

“Following the deficient Miranda warning, Bahena (Rivera) made incriminating statements,” according to the request. “Said statements were made in a sleep-deprived, coercive and unduly suggestive atmosphere, almost 12 hours after the interrogation began.”

Police have denied allegations of an improper interrogation and have apparently found blood that matched Tibbetts’ DNA in the trunk of Rivera’s car.

“You saw what happened to that incredible young woman,” then-President Trump said in 2018 at a rally. “Should have never happened. [The suspect was] illegally in our country. We’ve had a huge impact but the laws are so bad. The immigration laws are such a disgrace. We’re getting them changed.”

The jury selection process will begin Monday and is expected to take two days, but may take as long as ten. It will likely be difficult due to the extensive media coverage of the case, according to KCRG-TV in Ceder Rapids, Iowa. The trial has already been moved out of the county where Tibbetts lived.

“They will be asked whether they’ve heard about it,” University of Iowa law Professor James Tomkovicz told KCRG. “And they will be asked whether they’ve formed views. And you know if they say they’ve formed views and they can’t put those aside and listen to the evidence and decide based on that, then they’re not, they’re going to be disqualified for cause.”

Tomkovicz explained that the jurors would need to be able to review the case solely on the evidence presented at trial, and do not have to be completely unaware of the case.

Many people claim that the fact Rivera was an illegal immigrant and his specific defense of not understanding the laws is clearly cause for tighter border control and stricter immigration policies.

The trial will be broadcast online.

Ashley Hill

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