DAVENPORT, Iowa — EDITOR'S NOTE: Some of the images and video depicted in testimony may be graphic in nature.
Defense attorneys in the murder trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera gave their opening statement Tuesday in the death of Mollie Tibbetts.
"The State in this case, they got what they wanted and they closed the case," attorney Jennifer Frese told the jury. "They got what they needed, 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."
"And instead of continuing to work the case, instead of continuing to work the evidence, they submitted it to you."
Tuesday, May 25 Fast Facts
- Defense gives opening statement, saying the case “is about a man who immigrated here from Mexico" and his family circumstances. The defense argues this case hinges on an incomplete investigation.
- First Witness: Dr. Michael Spence, a DNA expert who is often called upon for second opinions in criminal cases.
- Second Witness: Alejandra Cervantes, Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s aunt, who says went to the sheriff’s office with her family when they heard her nephew was being questioned.
- Third Witness: Iris Monarrez Gamboa, who once was in a relationship with Cristhian; the two have a daughter. She described him as a good father and good provider.
- Fourth Witness: Anna Young, a fingerprinting specialist who works with the Iowa DCI crime lab. She analyzed items in Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s trunk for latent fingerprints.
- Fifth Witness: Dalton Jack, Mollie Tibbetts’ boyfriend, was questioned about his relationship and future plans with Mollie, as well as another woman he was seeing early on in the couple’s relationship. He testified about text conversations regarding those relationships. Dalton testified on the first day of the trial as well.
DNA expert Dr. Michael Spence testified he normally gives second opinions in criminal cases, but does not conduct his own testing of samples.
"Just based on what the typical protocols are for doing all the steps ... I didn't see any major issues with handling or possible risks of contamination or protocols that were in place that weren't followed," he said.
Next up was Alejandra Cervantes, Bahena Rivera's aunt, who testified she went to the sheriff's office when they heard about her nephew being questioned.
Iris Monarrez Gamboa, the mother of Bahena Rivera's child, told the court she didn't know him to be angry or violent.
Defense attorney Jennifer Frese: "Has Christian Bahena Rivera ever been violent towards you ... has he ever been violent towards your daughter?"
Monarrez Gamboa: "No."
Frese: "Did Christian Bahena Rivera ever express any sort of anger that you believed was excessive?"
Monarrez Gamboa: "No."
Frese: "He had any sort of anger problems?"
"Monarrez Gamboa: "No."
After an Iowa DCI fingerprint analyst testified, Tibbetts' boyfriend, Dalton Jack, returned to the stand.
He was questioned about his relationship and future plans with Mollie, as well as another woman he was seeing early on in the couple’s relationship. He testified about text conversations regarding those relationships.
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Prosecutors rested their case Monday after the State Medical Examiner and a forensic anthropologist testified about the condition Tibbetts' body was in when she was found in an Iowa cornfield in August 2018.
Judge Joel Yates then denied a motion from the defense to acquit Bahena Rivera of the murder charge.
Trent Vileta, the lead investigator in the case and an agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, testified Monday that only Bahena Rivera gave law enforcement the amount of information warranting an arrest and a murder charge.
Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown: "Any of the other men that you interviewed at all give you that type of information?"
DCI agent Trent Vileta: "No."
Brown: "One person in this case is that right?"
Brown: "That person is seated to my right Cristhian Rivera. Would you agree?"
Scroll down to see real-time updates from the courtroom
The defense named several other people who lived around Brooklyn or were seen in town around the time of Tibbetts' disappearance, asking Vileta why they weren't considered suspects.
Defense attorney Chad Frese: "You didn't find it a bit ironic that this man you'd received two tips on, the body was found a quarter-mile from his house."
Vileta: "No, not at all."
Agent Kevin Horan with the FBI told the jury how they used Tibbetts' cell phone data to show her phone moving at a constant pace while running before it picked up speed and turned off once she disappeared.
The jury later saw photos of Mollie Tibbetts' body depicting how she died. Dr. Dennis Klein, the State Medical Examiner, testified she was stabbed at least nine times.
"There's a pointy end towards the top and a slightly squared-off component on the bottom," Klein said. "This is consistent with a knife."
Daily trial recaps
- DAY 4: State rests its case after fourth day of testimony in Cristhian Bahena Rivera murder trial
- DAY 3: DNA analyst, former police officer testify in Cristhian Bahena Rivera trial
- DAY 2: Former police officer testifies Cristhian Bahena Rivera led law enforcement to Mollie Tibbetts' body
- DAY 1: Dalton Jack, Mollie Tibbetts' boyfriend, on Bahena Rivera: 'I wholeheartedly believe he's guilty'
Stream the trial on YouTube
Tuesday, May 24
Dalton Jack is allowed to step down from the witness stand.
The jury is excused for the day. Court resumes Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.
The defense re-crosses, revisiting Dalton's previous testimony and statements to police.
The State is cross-examining Dalton, talking about his time away working when Mollie disappeared.
Prosecution runs through the day Mollie disappeared, asking Dalton if he had anything to do with her disappearance. He testifies that he did not.
The court resumes with Dalton Jack on the stand after a 10-minute recess.
For several minutes, Dalton has been refreshing his recollection on a text conversation he had with Mollie regarding another woman. He previously admitted to having a relationship with the other woman early on when he was dating Mollie. He was still having conversations with her as of March 2018.
The defense asks Dalton about a previous relationship with another woman while he was dating Mollie.
The prosecution is objecting frequently to the way defense is phrasing questions, citing instances of "speculation."
The defense is unveiling Dalton's phone records, which show that after she disappeared he only tried to call Mollie one time.
Dalton testifies that their relationship was up and down and the couple had discussed breaking up.
Dalton discusses what his future plans with Mollie were. He said he had planned to propose to Mollie at his brother's wedding.
He says he had bought an engagement ring for Mollie that he was keeping at his house. He testified that he "spilled the beans" and told Mollie about his plans to propose to her.
The defense asks Dalton if he can think of anyone who would want to harm her. He says no.
The defense is asking how Mollie treated strangers, saying she would likely be willing to have a conversation with someone she didn't know.
He testifies they had been dating or three years before her disappearance, but they've known each other since elementary school.
Dalton Jack, Mollie Tibbetts' boyfriend is re-called to the witness stand by the defense.
The defense reiterates that it's not clear whose prints were found in the trunk.
The State is questioning Anna Young. Asking if she attempted to get identifiable fingerprints off of Mollie Tibbetts' body. She was not able to get the fingerprints from the body.
Young was provided with 14 items from the trunk of Cristhian Bahena Rivera's black Chevy Malibu for analysis. Of the 14, she found latent prints on two items: a red ice scraper and a clear plastic box with fishing hooks inside.
Court resumes with defense calling its next witness, Anna Young, who works for the Iowa DCI crime lab with a specialty in fingerprinting.
Iris testifies her cousin knew both Bahena Rivera and Dalton Jack, Mollie Tibbetts' boyfriend.
"From what I recall, I remember he was pretty racist," she says of Jack.
After brief cross-examination, Iris finishes her time on the stand.
Court is in lunch recess until 1 p.m.
Iris says they broke up, but continued to co-parent. He gave her financial support, was also sending money to his parents in Mexico.
Iris Monarrez Gamboa is sworn in as the defense's next witness. She lives in Cedar Rapids and is the mother of Bahena Rivera's son.
Cervantes testifies she knew Bahena Rivera as a kind person, not angry. She finishes her time on the stand.
Cervantes says the family decided to leave the sheriff's office because it was so late, and they gave up thinking they wouldn't get any information about what was going on.
Cervantes says she went to the sheriff's office with family when they heard Bahena Rivera was being questioned. Waited about five hours, until 1:30 a.m.
Cervantes says she is close to Bahena Rivera, says they used to speak weekly. Says he worked all week, every day. Describes him as very funny when he's around family, but shy and quiet among those he doesn't know.
Court is back in session. Next witness for the defense is Alejandra Cervantes, Bahena Rivera's aunt. Her husband is Bahena Rivera's uncle.
Spence's testimony is finished. Court is going on break for 10 minutes.
Prosecutor Scott Brown: "The DNA connects an injured Mollie Tibbetts to the trunk of the black Malibu? Is that correct?"
Dr. Michael Spence: "I think that's a reasonable assumption."
Dr. Spence agrees the blood stain on trunk seal of Bahena's car was a match to the known DNA of Mollie Tibbetts, the single source.
Defense ends its questioning of Spence.
Prosecution up for cross-examination, confirming Spence does not have his own lab or conduct his own testing.
"I think you would probably expect the same result," Spence testifies about if he took the two DNA sample comparisons were tested again. "But you can never be sure what the key is."
There were "mixtures" of DNA samples in this case, Spence testifies. Some of those can be weak or inconclusive, other times they can be considered conclusive.
Spence says two DNA samples were submitted in the case, Tibbetts' and Bahena Rivera's.
"Just based on what the typical protocols are for doing all the steps ... I didn't see any major issues with handling or possible risks of contamination or protocols that were in place that weren't followed," Spence testifies.
Spence has worked as a forensic scientist for over 15 years, and is often called upon for second opinions in criminal cases.
"What I'm doing is looking at so many cases out of so many labs in so many states, not only just looking at the reports and the supporting documents and all the police reports, but I do look at their standard operating procedures and the various labs," he testifies.
Defense calls its first witness to the stand, forensics expert Dr. Michael Spence. He testifies he has worked over 1,100 DNA cases.
He formerly worked with the Indiana State Police.
"What we ask you to do is listen to our case fairly, to pay attention and to remember that each one of you have the power to say no," Jennifer Frese concludes.
FULL VIDEO: Jennifer Frese presents defense's opening statement in Cristhian Bahena Rivera murder trial
Frese says there is no debate that after a long day at work, Bahena Rivera was brought to his 11-hour interview with law enforcement.
She says Bahena Rivera is a "yes man", always agreeing to do things at work.
Frese calls the interview a "systematic confrontation."
Court is back in session, with Jennifer Frese giving the defense's opening statement.
"This case is about a man who immigrated here from Mexico. You will hear about Cristhian's family circumstances, and the reasons he decided to come into this country."