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Defense talks about suspect’s background in Tibbetts murder trial

DAVENPORT — The defense has begun calling witnesses in the trial of the man accused of murdering a 20-year-old college student as she went running in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.

Defense attorney Jennifer Frese delivered opening arguments to the jury Tuesday.

“Mollie Tibbetts deserves justice. Her family deserves justice,” Frese said, “but so does Cristhian Bahena Rivera.” Frese says Rivera is a “yes” man and after what she describes as a systematic confrontation rather than an interview with her client, he confessed to the crime.

“They got what they needed,” Frese said. “There was an intense amount of pressure — that’s what the evidence has shown you — to close this case, to arrest someone for this vicious crime.”

Rivera’s defense attorney says authorities showed him video and other evidence they’d collected. “Until it was put in my client’s head: ‘Perhaps you blacked out,’” Frese said.

Iris Gamboa — Rivera’s former girlfriend and the mother of his child — testified Tuesday. Defense attorney Jennifer Frese asked if Bahena River had anger problems.

“Has Cristhian Bahena Rivera ever been violent towards you?…Has he ever been violent towards your daughter?” Gamboa responded: “No.” Frese continued: “I’m sure you two fought from time to time…There’s a reason you two broke up, but did Cristhian Bahena Rivera ever express any sort of anger that you believed was excessive?” Gamboa replied: “No.”

In follow-up questioning, Poweshiek County Bart Klaver noted investigators had interviewed Gamboa in the summer of 2018.  “You stated in that interview you weren’t aware of any periods where he claimed to have blacked out,” Klaver said. Gamboa said, “Yes,” in reply. Klaver continued: “And you stated in that interview that you weren’t aware of any periods where the defendant had memory issues, correct?” Gamboa responded: “Correct.”

A fingerprint expert and Tibbetts boyfriend were also called as witnesses Tuesday.

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