DAVENPORT, Iowa — Jury selection begins Monday in the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the man accused of murdering 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts.
Following two days of jury selection in Davenport, the trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday at the Scott County Courthouse.
Local 5 compiled everything you need to know about the case ahead of the trial, including a timeline of events and key people to know.
The trial will be streamed online each day starting Wednesday with opening arguments at WeAreIowa.com, the We Are Iowa app or the We Are Iowa YouTube channel.
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Timeline of events
July 18, 2018
Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, was last seen jogging near her boyfriend's home in Brooklyn, Iowa. She had been staying there to watch his dogs while he was out of town.
July 19, 2018
Mollie Tibbetts is reported missing. That morning she didn't show up to the daycare where she worked.
July 24, 2018
The FBI joins the search for Mollie. Volunteer searchers were called off as federal agents and state investigators took over.
July 26, 2018
Investigators search a pig farm near Guernsey, Iowa, located about 15 minutes from Brooklyn.
August 2, 2018
Family members hold a press conference announcing a reward fund raised $172,000. The money was intended as a reward for anyone who could provide information that would lead to her location and bring her home.
August 3, 2018
Investigators hold a news conference about the search efforts. The Iowa Department of Public Safety's investigative operations director, Kevin Winker, assured the public the search was still going, despite not being able to share much information.
August 7, 2018
August 13, 2018
Website launches to help search for Mollie. The website, which was called findingmollie.iowa.gov, had an interactive map and a link for people to anonymously provide tips.
August 15, 2018
Search for Mollie focuses in on five locations near her hometown: her boyfriend's home in Brooklyn, a carwash, a truck stop, a farm three miles from downtown Brooklyn, and another farm more than six miles away.
August 21, 2018
Mollie Tibbett's body is found. 24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the suspect charged with first-degree murder, led investigators to her body in a cornfield outside Brooklyn, Iowa
Rivera allegedly told police he followed Tibbetts in his car while she was jogging in town July 18, then got out and started running beside her. According to a criminal complaint, Rivera confessed to police that he blacked out and that, sometime after, he remembered Tibbetts’ body was in his car.
Rivera told police he hauled Tibbetts’ body into a cornfield and covered it with stalks, court documents say.
The following is an excerpt from the criminal complaint:
Rivera stated he then made a u-turn, drove back to an entrance to a field and then drove into a driveway to a cornfield. He noticed there was an earpiece from headphones in his lap and that is how he realized he put her in the trunk. He went to get her out of the trunk and he noticed blood on the side of her head. The Defendant Rivera described the female's clothing, that she was wearing an ear phone or headphone set. The defendant further described during the interview that he dragged Tibbetts on foot from his vehicle to a secluded location in a cornfield. Rivera described he put her over his shoulder and took her about 20 meters into the cornfield and he left her covered in some corn leaves and that he left her there, face up. The Defendant was able to use his phone to determine the route he traveled from Brooklyn. Rivera then later guided law enforcement to her location from memory. Law enforcement located the remains of a deceased female in the area Rivera took them to. The physical surroundings of her location and other factors at the scene matched his earlier physical description of the area as that where he placed her body.
August 22, 2018
Cristhian Bahena Rivera makes first court appearance. His appearance was in Poweshiek County court, where he was arraigned on a first-degree murder charge and his bond was set at $5 million.
August 23, 2018
Autopsy shows Mollie was killed by "multiple sharp force injuries," and that Mollie was the victim of a homicide, according to the Division of Criminal Investigation.
August 26, 2018
Local runners hold a run in Mollie's memory. "Miles for Mollie" aimed to help educate runners on safety while running.
August 28, 2018
Money for reward fund is returned to donors. The reward fund reached nearly $400,000 when Mollie's family and Crime Stoppers announced they would be giving back any money that was donated.
September 18, 2018
Cristhian Bahena Rivera pleads not guilty. He entered his plea at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa.
October 1, 2018
Memorial fund set up in Mollie's honor benefits the University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital. Money goes toward child and adolescent psychiatry at the children's hospital.
March 4, 2019
Cristhian Bahena Rivera asks to have trial moved for more diversity. His lawyers argued that another county would allow for more minority representation in the jury pool.
May 7, 2019
Mollie's family asks for donations to the Brooklyn Opera House. The fundraiser was meant to be in celebration of Mollie's 21st birthday, on May 8, 2019. Mollie's mother said the opera house held significance to the family.
November 14, 2019
Lawyers for Cristhian Bahena Rivera ask for the court to throw out the confession he made to law enforcement in 2018. His lawyers said when he was read his legal rights, it got lost in translation. They argued any evidence related to the body shouldn't be used in the trial.
December 23, 2019
Following a two-day hearing in November, Judge Joel Yates rules certain conversations Bahena Rivera had with law enforcement will not be allowed to be introduced as evidence at trial.
Testimonial evidence obtained from the Defendant after the immigration detainer was placed on him at approximately 11:30 p.m. on August 20, 2018, to when the Miranda warnings were adequately given to the Defendant at approximately 5:50 a.m. on August 21, 2018, are hereby suppressed, and the State of Iowa is barred from using such testimonial evidence in its case-in-chief.
July 10, 2020
Judge orders trial to be moved to Scott County. The trial had previously been moved to Woodbury County.
December 10, 2020
May 11, 2021
A judge rules members of the public and media won't be allowed inside the courtroom but can watch live via the internet or TV
May 13, 2021
A pretrial conference is held. The court will work through a pool of 175 potential jurors to get down to 12 starting May 17.
May 16, 2021
Bahena Rivera is transferred to the Scott County Jail pending trial.
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COVID's impact on the trial
Bahena Rivera's trial, like everything, comes with its own COVID-19 precautions that will change things within the courtroom and beyond its walls.
District Court Judge Joel Yates, who will be presiding over this trial, released an order outlining how the trial will play out given its high-profile nature and the pandemic.
Jury selection will take place Monday and Tuesday in the RiverCenter in downtown Davenport. The public and the media are allowed to attend, but recording isn't allowed. That includes photography, audio and video recording, Tweeting and live-blogging. Electronic devices like phones and computers are banned.
Attorneys on both sides will question potential jurors (a process known as voir dire) in order to find 12 fair and impartial members plus alternates. A judge can remove an individual from the process if they are believed to be partial or having a bias. The defense and prosecution both also have a limited number of strikes which they can use to remove someone.
Inside the courtroom
The trial will take place inside the Scott County Courthouse in downtown Davenport and is expected to last 10 days, according to Yates' order.
Because of the limited size of the courtroom and social distancing, the public isn't allowed inside. Electronic devices like phones aren't allowed inside the building by administrative order except by members of the media.
People to know
20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts was born in California to her parents, Rob Tibbetts and Laura Calderwood.
She graduated from BGM High School in Brooklyn before attending the University of Iowa as a psychology major.
“She was a warm, bubbly, approachable individual that has a great manner about her and was very patient,” said Chad Nath, day camp director at the Grinnell Regional Medical Center Day Camp where Mollie worked.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera
26-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera worked at Yarrabee Farms in Brooklyn at the time of his arrest.
Born in Mexico, the farm said in August 2018 Bahena Rivera had provided proper employment documentation.
“When anyone applies to us, they must provide government ID,” Dane Lang, co-owner of Yarrabee Farms, said. “This individual provided a state-issued photo ID. Our practice is to take a second step further and verify. We ran the information through our system, and the information came back verified.”
Judge Joel Yates
Judge Joel Yates earned his bachelor's degree from Mt. Mercy College in 1986, graduated from the Drake University School of Law in 1994 and was appointed to the 8th Judicial Circuit in 2007.
Though the trial has been moved to Scott County, Yates' judicial district includes Poweshiek County, where the charges were initially filed.
Bart Klaver and Scott Brown are prosecutors in the case: Klaver is the Poweshiek County Attorney and was appointed to the job in 2018, while Brown is an assistant attorney general for the State of Iowa.
While county attorneys have what is called original jurisdiction in prosecuting a case in their area, cases can be referred to the attorney general's office for a number of reasons, such as the experience state attorneys have in handling a complex case such as murder.
According to the Iowa AG's office, they have handled 1,378 cases from 97 counties from 2013 to 2020.
Chad and Jennifer Frese are the husband-wife team representing Bahena Rivera. They are criminal defense attorneys from Marshalltown and are being paid by the defendant's friends and family.
Despite the high-profile nature of the case and Bahena Rivera's immigration status, his attorneys said in September 2018:
“Immigration really has nothing to do with this case, and we aren’t going to let it become an issue in this case. Our focus is Cristhian’s charge that he’s facing, and the death of this woman. Whether or not he is a legal or illegal immigrant really has nothing to do with the facts of the case. So we don’t want to get into that argument at all.”
Bahena Rivera was previously represented by Allen Richards of Tama.
Local 5 will have in-depth coverage on the murder trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera. Stay updated at WeAreIowa.com, the We Are Iowa app or on the We Are Iowa YouTube channel or text TRIAL to 515-457-1026.