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Former police officer testifies Cristhian Bahena Rivera led law enforcement to Mollie Tibbetts' body

Pamela Romero told the jury Thursday that after speaking with Bahena Rivera in Spanish, the suspect led police to Tibbetts' body in a cornfield.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — EDITOR'S NOTE: Some of the images and video depicted in testimony may be graphic in nature.

Testimony resumed Thursday in the murder trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the man charged in Mollie Tibbetts' 2018 death.

Thursday, May 20 Fast Facts 

  • First witness: Deputy Steve Kivi, with the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office, testifies about a black Chevy Malibu caught on surveillance video, likely in the area when Mollie was running through
  • Second witness: Logan Collins, a Brooklyn, IA resident whose surveillance cameras caught the Malibu driving by
  • Third witness: Iowa DCI Agent Derek Riessen, testifies about surveillance video that shows a runner and a Malibu that  appears on camera multiple times
  • Fourth witness: Special Agent Michael Fischels, with the Department of Homeland Security, canvassed the farm where Cristhian Bahena Rivera worked and spoke with him in Spanish, discussing his car and whether he knew anything about Mollie Tibbetts
  • Fifth witness: Special Agent Scott Green, with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigations, canvassed Bahena Rivera’s workplace, collected DNA samples
  • Sixth witness: Pamela Romero, former police officer, testified about Bahena Rivera leading her to the body of Mollie Tibbetts and the details he gave surrounding an interaction he had with her how the body was left in a cornfield

Prosecutors gave their opening statement Wednesday before calling six witnesses.

"He admitted that he'd seen Molly the night she disappeared: July 18, 2018. He admitted that he followed her, he got out of his car. He admitted to jogging to catch up with her, that he wanted to get close to her," Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver said about Bahena Rivera. "He admitted that Mollie didn't want to have anything to do with him, that she threatened to call the police. And he admitted he became angry at that time."

The defense has chosen to give its opening statement once the state rests its case.

Tibbetts' boyfriend, Dalton Jack, testified Wednesday he was in Dubuque working a construction job when she disappeared. While under questioning from the defense, Jack said he withheld information from law enforcement about him having a relationship with another woman while dating Tibbetts because he didn't find it relevant.

"I'm obviously not his biggest fan," Jack said of Bahena Rivera. "I wholeheartedly believe he is guilty."

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Scroll down to see real-time updates from the courtroom

Six more witnesses were called by the state Thursday, including Pamela Romero, a former police officer who interviewed Bahena Rivera in August 2018.

In the interview, which was centered around Tibbetts' disappearance, Romero said she showed Bahena Rivera photos of his car that were captured on surveillance video. He voluntarily said that they were photos of his car.

Romero testified Bahena Rivera said Tibbetts was "hot", and when he followed Tibbetts while she was running, she threatened to call police. That's when he allegedly fought her, and according to Romero, he said he blacks out when he gets angry.

Bahena Rivera told Romero he didn't remember putting Tibbetts in his car, but remembers taking her out.

Romero goes with Bahena Rivera to a cornfield opening, where Tibbetts' body would be found. Inside the vehicle, she read him his Miranda rights. 

When Romero pressed Bahena Rivera for more details on what happened, she testified he replied, "I brought you here didn't I? So that means that I did it. I don't remember how I did it."

Iowa DCI Agent Derek Riessen testified law enforcement monitored surveillance footage from the house of Logan Collins, narrowing in on a Black Chevy Malibu Bahena Rivera owned. 

"What we decided to do is starting logging everything we saw on the video: vehicles pedestrians, anything in and around that area prior to 7:45 [p.m.] and also after 7:45 [p.m.]," he said.

Court adjourned for the day around 4:25 p.m. Thursday and will reconvene at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

WATCH: Homeland Security agent, former police officer testify at Cristhian Bahena Rivera trial (Day 2 Recap)

Prosecutors said they are centering their case on three items:

  • Surveillance video of a black Chevy Malibu, driven by Bahena Rivera, in the area Mollie was last seen
  • Mollie’s blood in the car 
  • Bahena Rivera’s admissions that he found her attractive, followed her and remembered her body in the trunk

RELATED: Dalton Jack, Mollie Tibbetts' boyfriend, testifies on Day 1 of Cristhian Bahena Rivera murder trial

Stream the trial on YouTube

Thursday, May 20

4:24 p.m.

Judge Joel Yates adjourns court for the day. Says court will resume at 8:30 a.m. Friday.

4:20 p.m.

They are looking over the transcript, to a conversation at 11:50 p.m., where Romero pointed out that Bahena Rivera was sleepy. To which he replied, "a bit."

The defense points out another point in the transcript where Romeno talked about him being sleepy. Romeno says he was engaged in the conversation and was not sleeping when she was in the room. 

4:13 p.m.

About three hours into the interview, the defense points out that the transcript shows Romero said "you fell asleep?" after she returned from a break.  Romero says Bahena Rivera replied with "Mmm-hmm."

Romero says during the interview Bahena Rivera did not appear sleepy and was engaged.

4:12 p.m.

The defense is making the point of how exhausted Bahena Rivera may have been during his interview with Romero.  The interview lasted 11+ hours. The defense says Bahena Rivera fell asleep several times during the interview, which was conducted right as he ended a shift at work. 

3:52 p.m.

The defense is reviewing the transcript of Romero's interview with Bahena Rivera. 

Late into the evening during the interview, Bahena Rivera was placed into custody for his immigration status. 

The defense questions Romero on her informing him earlier in the interview that she was not interested in his immigration status.  She clarifies that she was not interested in his status and that it was ICE agents who placed him into custody. 

3:35 p.m.

The defense is asking Romero about the point when Bahena Rivera brought police to the body of Mollie Tibbetts.

The defense asks if she's familiar with the term "false confession," and Romero says yes she is. When asked to describe what that means to the jury, Romero says she is unable to because she doesn't have the knowledge to do so. 

3:33 p.m.

The defense resumes questioning with Pamela Romero.

3:20 p.m.

Court is in a 10-minute recess

3:18 p.m. 

Romero says she asked Bahena Rivera about his thought process when people started looking for Mollie. 

"He just shrugged his shoulder and said I didn't think about it," said Romero. 

3:16 p.m.

Prosecution asks if Romero pressed Bahena Rivera on more details. Romero says she continued pressing him for more details. 

Romero tells the prosecution Bahena Rivera said: "I brought you here didn't I? So that means that I did it. I don't remember how I did it."

3:15 p.m.

Romero says she asked him about putting Mollie in the car. Bahena Rivera said he didn't remember putting her in the vehicle, but remembers taking her out. 

3:12 p.m.

3:05 p.m. 

3 p.m. 

Romero said during their discussion, she asked Bahena Rivera what he thought of the runner, and he said he found her attractive.  Romero says at one point Bahena Rivera said he thought the runner was "hot."

Romero says they took a break in their interview after this discussion. 

2:57 p.m. 

Romero testifies that Bahena Rivera said he saw the runner three times, saw her first, turned around, came back, she waved at him and smiled, and he continued doing what he was doing. He was trying to find his way around town, heading to his uncle's to get a vacuum cleaner.  

He said he never had any contact with the runner, other than seeing her. He told Romero he lost sight of her on his way to get the vacuum. 

2:54 p.m.

In the interview, which was centered around the disappearance of Mollie Tibbetts, Romero said she showed Bahena Rivera photos of his car that were captured on surveillance video. He voluntarily said that they were photos of his car. 

2:51 p.m. 

2:48 p.m. 

She also says they talked about his family and place of employment, Yarrabee Farms. Romero said this is part of rapport building, so you can get to know the person you're talking to. 

2:46 p.m. 

She says during the interview they talked about his vehicle. 

"He actually told me that he had two vehicles, one was a black Malibu that he had purchased from one of his cousins," she said. He mentioned another vehicle, an Altima, that he would typically drive in the gravel back roads of the time, because it was out of date with the registration.  She says he told her the Malibu was up to date with registration, so he would drive that around town. 

2:42 p.m.

In talking about the interview she conducted with him, Romero says she and Bahena Rivera were speaking Spanish the whole time. 

2:38 p.m.

2:35 p.m. 

She was brought into assist with the Mollie Tibbetts investigation during her time as an officer in August of 2018.  She was called to Montezuma, Iowa to interview Christhian Bahena Rivera.  

When she was called to help with the investigation, Mollie Tibbetts' body had not yet been located.

2:28 p.m.

Pamela Romero, a former police officer with the West Liberty and Iowa City Police Departments. She is a native Spanish speaker, and was often called upon to interact with people using the Spanish language. 

2:31 p.m.

Back to your law enfocement days,  did you receive training in interview techniques? Yes had training in Dec 2016 

2:07 p.m. 

Witness is excused. Court takes a 10 minute recess. 

2:01 p.m.

The defense cross-examines the witness, asking him about his part in the canvas. 

1:59 p.m.

Green said he saw the defendant's Nissan Altima at the farm.  He said he made a visual search, seeing a pair of running shorts in the front and a grey pipe in the back.

1:55 p.m.

State calls Special Agent Scott Green, with the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations, to the witness stand.  He assisted in a canvas of Yarrabee Farms.  He said he talked to Christhian Bahena Rivera, and was asked to transport him to the sheriff's office. 

1:51 p.m.

The defense gave a brief cross-examination, rehashing the conversation Fischels had with him and his consent to search his property. 

1:50 p.m.

During an interview, Bahena Rivera  was asked about Mollie Tibbetts. Fischels said Bahena Rivera told authorities he didn't know Mollie, hadn't seen her, and mentioned something about Facebook.  

1:48 p.m. 

Bahena Rivera gave consent to search the black Chevy Malibu.  He also agreed to his home being searched.

1:47 p.m.

Fischels said he asked him about the black Chevy Malibu, which was parked at his residence, a trailer parked just down the road from the farm. Only about 5 minutes down the road.

1:46 p.m. 

Fischels spoke to him in Spanish.  He described his demeanor as "calm, not nervous, cooperative." 

Fischels said they talked with Bahena Rivera about the vehicles associated with him.  There were two - that day he was driving a Nissan Altima that he drove to the farm that day.

1:41 p.m. 

Fischels became involved in the case on August 19th, and was asked to canvas area farms.  He knew they were looking into a specific vehicle, a black Chevy Malibu, the driver was identified as Christhian Bahena Rivera. 

On August 20 of 2018, Fischels arrived to the Powesheik County Sheriff's Department to assist.  He was sent to Yarrabee Farms where Bahena Rivera was in an employee room with other workers.

1:40 p.m. 

State calls its next witness, Michael Fischels, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security.  He has been a federal agent since 1996. 

11:38 a.m.

Court will be in recess until 1:15 p.m.

11:27 a.m.

Defense attorneys are now cross-examining Agent Riessen.

11:16 a.m.

Footage shows what appears the same black Chevy Malibu in the area multiple times on the evening of July 18, 2018.

11:10 a.m.

Court is back in session. Prosecution continues to question Agent Riessen about surveillance footage showing a jogger and the black Chevy Malibu.  He says the chrome mirrors and wheels on that car were "immediately identifiable" to him.

10:56 a.m.

Court is on a 10-minute break.

10:53 a.m.

Prosecutor shows the video enhanced now. Still incredibly difficult to see. A dark figure flashes by in a fraction of a second.

10:49 a.m.

10:36 a.m.

10:27 a.m.

Prosecutors call Derek Riessen who works for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

10:11 a.m.

Logan Collins is the next witness. He lived in Brooklyn starting where the surveillance video of the black car was taken. He says he had four cameras on his home.

Those cameras show what prosecutors say is Cristhian Bahena Rivera's Black Chevy Malibu driving where Mollie was last seen the night of July 18, 2018.

Credit: The Gazette/Pool
A still image, taken from a security camera video, of a black Chevy Malibu is shown in court during the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa, on Thursday, May 20, 2021. Bahena Rivera is charged with first-degree in the death of Mollie Tibbetts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

10:07 a.m.

Court is back in session. 

9:49 a.m.

Court is in a brief recess.

9:47 a.m.

9:40 a.m

Deputy Kivi says he went back to visit with Bahena Rivera at his workplace on Aug. 20, 2018 (four days after the car stop). Bahena Rivera was brought back to the office for a formal interview.

Deputy Kivi did the first in-depth interview with boyfriend Dalton Jack. Defense is going over what Dalton told Kivi about Mollie's running routes. On Wednesday, Dalton testified he didn't really know her routes.

9:20 a.m.

Defense is asking Deputy Kivi about other men who lived in the area of interest based on Mollie's cell phone data. Some of them have history of violence against women.  

9:11 a.m.

Deputy Kivi says he asked Bahena Rivera if he knew about Mollie. He said he had heard of her but didn't have any useful information. Describes him as calm and polite. 

Kivi let him go after that encounter. 

9:03 a.m.

Deputy Kivi says a man who couldn't speak English was driving the car. A bystander helped them communicate. The driver showed a birth certificate as ID. It was Cristhian Bahena Rivera. Worked at Yarrabee Farms and lived on a property owned by the farm.

9:00 a.m.

Deputy Kivi is testifying about surveillance video from a house that showed a black Chevy Malibu passing through, circling around, lingering. Investigators believed the car would most likely have been in the same area when Mollie was jogging through.

8:55 a.m.

Deputy Kivi says the search for Mollie was guided by some of her cell phone data. Involved doing door to door to farmhouses in that rural area in the SE part of Poweshiek County. 

8:45 a.m.

The jury is seated, and the state submits dozens of exhibits into evidence.

Deputy Steve Kivi with the Poweshiek County Sheriff's Office takes the stand. Testifies he started organizing at the sheriff's office, working to get more information on Mollie's disappearance before heading to the house in Brooklyn where she lived.

RELATED: Everything you need to know in Mollie Tibbetts case ahead of Cristhian Bahena Rivera's trial

RELATED: VERIFY: Cristhian Bahena Rivera's attorneys aren't paid for with taxpayer money

Credit: WOI-TV

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