Christian Bahena Rivera (Court TV screen capture)
DAVENPORT — The man accused of murdering 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts in Brooklyn, Iowa, nearly three years ago is denying he killed Tibbetts, claiming he was kidnapped by two armed men and the men put Tibbetts body in the trunk of his car.
Speaking through an interpreter, Cristhian Bahena Rivera answered questions from his defense attorney and described the men as being dressed in dark sweaters, with their faces covered.
“One of them was bigger and a little bit fatter and of them one was about my statute and a little bit stronger, burly,” Bahena testified through an interpreter.
Jennifer Frese, Bahena’s defense attorney, asked: “Did those men have any sort of weapons?”
Bahena replied: “The bigger one I could see that he had a gun and the smaller one I could see that he had a knife.”
Bahena testified the men showed up at his home, they all got in his car and he was ordered to track Tibbetts.
“Did they make any comments while you were driving?” Frese asked. “One of them said to the other one something about someone running.”
Bahena claims he was ordered to stop the car after they had passed Tibbetts a few times and he did not see who killed Tibbetts. Bahena testified that the men ran away after he drove to a rural area, but Bahena admitted he placed Tibbetts’ body in the corn field.
“Well, I stayed there a couple of minutes thinking of what to do and then I just decided to take the body out,” Bahena testified.
His defense attorney asked: “Why didn’t you call the police, sir?”
Bahena replied: “Because I was scared.”
Under questioning by prosecutor Scott Brown, Bahena confirmed his claims in court today contradict what he told investigators in 2018.
“Do you remember being asked in the interview by Ms. Romero if you were covering for anyone…and you told her that you were not, is that correct?” Brown asked.
Bahena replied: “Correct,” and Brown continued: “So you were given an opportunity in the presence of law enforcement to tell what you’ve told us here today…and you chose not to do that.”
Bahena said: “At that moment, I was really scared.”
The prosecutor focused on the part of Bahena’s 2018 interview where Bahena described Tibbetts slapping him during a confrontation on the road.
“You told the officers that she was angry with you, correct?” Bahena replied: “Something like that.”
Brown continued: “You were angry with her, correct?”
Bahena replied: “You could say that.”
Brown followed up: “Well, you said it, isn’t that right?”
Bahena testified Wednesday the two men had threatened his daughter and ex-girlfriend. Bahena told his defense attorney that was why he didn’t tell investigators what he said in court.
Jennifer Frese said: “You did not plan to tell them what really happened.”
Bahena replied: “Right.”
In cross-examination, Bahena told the prosecutor he did not know who the men were.
“Other than these two men who you claim were at the corn field with you, you were the only other person at the corn field, correct?” Brown asked and Bahena replied: “Yes.”
Bahena also told Brown the men sometimes pointed the gun at him, but he was never punched or stabbed by the men. The defense rested it’s case at around two o’clock Wednesday afternoon. The prosecution can call rebuttal witnesses, but it’s possible closing argument could be delivered later today. The trial is being broadcast on Iowa media, as well as nationwide on Court TV.