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Cristhian Bahena Rivera testifies in his own defense in death of Mollie Tibbetts; defense rests

During his testimony, Bahena Rivera said two masked men showed up in his living room in July 2018 and threatened him.

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

Cristhian Bahena Rivera took to the stand in his own defense Wednesday on the final day of witness testimony in the death of Mollie Tibbetts.

During his testimony, Bahena Rivera said two masked men showed up in his living room in July 2018 and threatened him, telling defense attorney Jennifer Frese that one man had had a knife and the other had a gun.

While on the stand, Bahena Rivera told the jury the men said to him, "I shouldn't do anything stupid and everything was going to be OK."  

Bahena Rivera is a Spanish-speaker and had a translator with him in court. He is charged with Murder in the First Degree. 

Bahena Rivera said the men ordered him to drive toward Brooklyn, Iowa.  He said he couldn't remember the exact routes, but said they went back and forth through the area in his black Chevy Malibu.  

He said they drove passed Mollie Tibbetts while she was running about three or four times.

Wednesday marked Day 6 of the murder trial, which is taking place in Scott County.

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Wednesday, May 26 Fast Facts

  • First Witness: Brandon Bublitz, a field operations for the major crimes unit in the Iowa DCI, was assigned to look at potential blood evidence about a mile from where Mollie’s body was found.
  • Second Witness: Matt George with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation testified about the concept of victimology and talked about his conversations with Mollie’s boyfriend.
  • Third Witness: Jordyn (Lamb) Johnson, went to high school with Mollie and her boyfriend. She testified she previously dated Dalton Jack, Mollie’s boyfriend.  
  • Fourth Witness: Defendant Cristhian Bahena Rivera took the stand, testifying he did put Mollie’s body in the cornfield, but says he wasn’t the one who killed her. He says he was threatened by two armed men who showed up in his living room and directed him to drive them, ultimately to where Mollie was running.
  • Fifth Witness: Jamie Lee Slife, an Iowa woman who called in tips once she heard about Mollie’s disappearance. She felt investigators should look into her father, who she said was a known abuser.
  • Sixth and final Witness: Luis Medina, who is a relative of Cristhians. He testified about his observations of Cristhians’ demeanor and said he and other family members went to the sheriff’s office the day Cristhian was being questioned.
  • The defense rested its case

Scroll down to see real-time updates from the courtroom

His testimony indicated the men instructed to stop a couple of times; the first time the man with the knife got out and came back about 10 minutes later. They continued driving toward town and then Bahena Rivera was directed to stop a second time. 

This time, both men got out and he said he heard them put something in the trunk. They asked him to turn around and drive toward a gravel road.

Bahena Rivera said eventually they arrived in front of a white house. The men got out and told him not to say anything, threatening the safety of his ex-girlfriend and daughter. 

When the men were gone, he said he got out and looked in the trunk of his car, and found Mollie Tibbetts' body there.  Not seeing any signs of life, the defendant said he picked her up, put her in the cornfield, and covered her with corn.

Upon cross-examination, Bahena Rivera said he did remember the interview with Pamela Romero, and did lead law enforcement to Mollie's body.  

Prosecutor Scott Brown asked Bahena Rivera to confirm the facts that he was driving the car seen on surveillance footage, whether he was in the area where Mollie was running and if it's correct he had never mentioned the two men to Romero. He said "yes" to all of the questions. 

Bahena Rivera said he did not know where the two men went once they left.  Nor have the men contacted him since.

Jennifer Frese gave the defense's opening statement Tuesday, followed by testimony from a DNA expert, Bahena Rivera's aunt, the mother of his child and Dalton Jack, Tibbetts' boyfriend.

"The State in this case, they got what they wanted and they closed the case," Frese said. "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."

Daily trial recaps

Stream the trial on YouTube

Wednesday, May 26

1:56 p.m. 

The defense rests. Court resumes Thursday at 8:30 a.m. 

1:54 p.m.

The prosecution is reviewing Luis' time at the county sheriff's office.  He was there for about six hours total.  He says his sister-in-law came in later.  They never attempted to contact Cristhian, they were just trying to find out what was going on.

1:50 p.m.

Luis talks about his relationship with Cristhian, says he's never seen him aggressive or angry.

When Cristhian was being questioned, Luis says he went up to the Poweshiek County Sheriff's office to see if he could find out what was going on.  

Other family members showed up at the county sheriff's office. They waited for what "seemed like forever," and he says they left around 1:30 a.m. 

1:42 p.m. 

Defense calls Luis Medina to the stand.  Cristhian Bahena Rivera used to live with him. Cristhian is Luis' wife's nephew.

1:40 p.m.

"Ms. Slife, did you ever get any feedback or phone calls from law enforcement?," asked Attorney Frese. 

"No."

Slife testified that Mollie's body was later found next to her father's property.

1:37 p.m.

Back to questioning.  The witness says she called to report tips in on her father because he was a known abuser. 

She had seen in the media that investigators were searching in the area where he lived. 

Slife says her father was very violent and would threaten family members. 

1:35 p.m.

The defense started asking Slife why she called tips into the tip line. Before she could answer the prosecution objected.  Council is talking with the judge currently.

1:30 p.m.

Defense calls Jamie Lee Slife to the stand. She called in multiple tips to the Mollie Tibbetts tip line. Her first call was a couple days after Mollie disappeared. She called a total of three times.

1:28 p.m. 

Defense reviews some moments of Cristhian Bahena Rivera's interrogation.  The prosecution finishes with one final question - asking him if he agrees he's the only one who could have taken investigators to the body of Mollie Tibbetts. 

He said yes. 

1:24 p.m.

The defense is questioning the defendant again.  He clarifies he did not like taht the officer interpreted his comment about calling Mollie Tibbetts "hot." The term he says he used was "guapa" which he says means good looking.

1:21 p.m. 

The prosecution is reviewing the timeline of July 18, 2018, when Cristhian Bahena Rivera took a shower and came upon the two men in his living room.

1:18 p.m. 

Questioning resumes with Cristhian Bahena Rivera on the stand. 

Cristhian Bahena Rivera says at no point did the men injure him with their weapons.  

11:57 a.m.

Court is now in lunch recess.

11:54 a.m.

Bahena Rivera says he was asked in the interview if he was covering for anyone, but said no. 

"At that moment I was really scared."

11:53 a.m.

11:36 a.m.

Brown: "You knew MT's location for nearly 5 weeks before you told anyone in law enforcement? The two men you say you were with, you don't know who they are? But you remember one of them used the name Jack?" 

Bahena Rivera: "Yes." 

11:25 a.m.

Upon cross-examination, Bahena Rivera says he does remember the interview with Pamela Romero, and did lead law enforcement to Mollie's body.

Brown asks if he the black Chevy Malibu, if he was in the area of Mollie running, and if it's correct he never mentioned the two armed men when talking to Pamela Romero.

Bahena Rivera answers "yes" to all of those questions.

11:21 a.m.

Bahena Rivera says the idea of being "blacked out" was suggested to him. Didn't want to tell the kidnapping story with the 2 men, because he still feared something happening to his daughter.

Defense has no further questions. Scott Brown begins cross-examination for the State.

11:18 a.m.

Jennifer Frese shifting now back to the night he was interviewed and confessed. CBR says the officer started accusing him of things. Says he thought it would be better if he said the things they wanted to hear, then they would help him. 

11:04 a.m. 

Cristhian says before the men left him, they told him to not say anything about what had happened.  They told him they knew Iris and his daughter and threatened that if he said something they would take care of them. 

They told him to wait a few minutes and then leave. 

He said he then got out of the car because he knew there was something in the trunk. He looked in the trunk and saw the body of Mollie Tibbetts.

He says he saw no signs of life.  He didn't call the police because he was afraid it would look bad and he was afraid for his family. 

He said he picked her up and put her in the cornfield and covered her with corn.

Her phone, Fitbit and earbuds were in the trunk. He left them on the side of the road. 

10:59 a.m.

Cristhian said he heard them opening the trunk, he heard a movement in the car and then the trunk closed.

The men then got back in the vehicle and asked him to turn around, continue driving and go toward the gravel road. 

Cristhian says he just remembers driving fast and drove for several miles, about 5-8 minutes. 

Then they arrived in front of a white house.

10:55 a.m. 

The man in the front seat with him, who was holding a knife, instructed Cristhian to stop.  He started going forward, toward the town. 

He was gone for about 10-12 minutes. 

When he came back they continued driving into town, but they didn't get to town.

10:41 a.m.

The court is taking a 10-minute recess.

10:39 a.m. 

The defendant says they continued forward, then the men asked him to turn back, at the intersection of 385th and 200th Street. He says he followed their instructions. 

They drove a little bit further and then Cristhian says the men asked him to stop.  At this point he could not see Mollie.

10:35 a.m. 

He estimates they drove passed Mollie Tibbetts three or four times.

"Let's talk about the last time you drove by Ms. Tibbetts," said the defense attorney. 

Cristhian got up and pointed to an area off the map where he had seen her. 

10:34 a.m. 

Cristhian says they drove back and forth through town. He was driving based on their instructions. 

He confirms to the defense that he doesn't remember the exact route they drove. 

10:30 a.m.

Cristhian is describing plans to clean out his car to get ready for a date he had coming up.  On July 18th, he arrived home with a vacuum that he borrowed from his uncle. Around 6 or 6:30 p.m. he took a shower. When he got out of the shower, he was confronted by two people in his living room. They were wearing dark clothing with their faces covered.  They had a gun and a knife.  They told him everything would be OK. 

Cristhian testifies that they instructed him to get in his car and drive. 

They drove into Brooklyn, Iowa, taking the backway.  He said he heard them mention something about someone running. 

10:16 a.m.

Yarrabee did require documentation to work but he was offered a grace period to get paperwork in order. He provided documents with the name John Budd but says they knew his name was CBR.

10:14 a.m.

Took two days to find work at the dairy farm. Says it didn't require any formal documents to get the job. Then decided to switch jobs to work at Yarrabee Farms to get better pay. $12.60/hour.  

10:10 a.m.

Says he hired a 'coyote' to help him cross the border to get into the US. Crossed the Rio Grande on an inflatable raft with 9-10 other people. Got to Iowa by vehicle and met up with his uncles in Tama, Iowa.

10:03 a.m.

CBR says he was born in Mexico. His mother stayed home, but his father worked. He made the equivalent of $75 a week. 

9:56 a.m.

Defense calls the defendant, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, to the stand.

9:48 a.m.

George finishes his time on the stand. 

Defense calls Jordyn Johnson, whose maiden name is Lamb.

9:40 a.m.

Jury returns to the courtroom. George testifies there didn't seem to be anyone who wanted to harm Mollie.

9:28 a.m.

Outside the presence of the jury, George testifies that while talking to Dalton Jack, he never mentioned that Mollie knew about his relationship with another woman. 

Defense attorney Chad Frese may attempt to use this as grounds for impeachment for Dalton as a witness.

9:21 a.m.

Court goes on a 10-minute break, but Judge Joel Yates keeps attorneys in the room to discuss things outside the presence of the jury.

9:18 a.m.

Agent George followed up with Dalton two days later, after learning about that side relationship he had with that other woman. George wanted to see if there was anything else Dalton hadn't mentioned.

9:13 a.m.

Agent George says he talked to boyfriend Dalton Jack on July 25, 2018, about a week after Mollie's disappearance. Says he was cooperative, talkative, concerned about Mollie. 

9:07 a.m.

George says sometimes investigators look for "dead zones," or time periods where cell phones or technology isn't shown as active. Also testifies he has conducted hundreds of interviews.

8:55 a.m.

George talks about "victimology," which is how investigators get to know a person who may have been the victim of a crime, which can help create leads in a case. 

He testifies it's about getting as much information on the person as possible, talk to people in their "inner circle."

8:50 a.m.

Defense calls Matt George, an agent with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

He normally worked with the gambling enforcement unit across 20 counties in southeast Iowa.

8:48 a.m.

On cross-examination, Scott Brown confirms with Bublitz he believed there were deceased cattle in the area where the swabs were collected.

Brief re-direct, and Bublitz is excused from the witness stand.

8:43 a.m.

The swabs could have been related to deceased cattle on the property where they were collected, but Bublitz says he can't be certain.

Took multiple swabs because the evidence of interest was in the dirt.  

He later saw someone at the local cemetery, who he talked to.

8:39 a.m.

Bublitz testifies he had to collect buccal swabs of a man in Guernsey, Iowa at the request of DCI agent Trent Vileta. He says the address where he collected the swab was nearby, a cross-street over, from where Mollie Tibbetts' body was found. 

He calls it "a rough estimate."

8:36 a.m.

Court is back in session. Defense calls Brandon Bublitz. He is employed with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.

He testifies he has provided around 40 to 50 assists in cases. One of those cases was the disappearance of Mollie Tibbetts.

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

Credit: WOI-TV