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Jury Returns Guilty Verdict in Slaying of Mollie Tibbetts

First-degree murder conviction means a life sentence without parole for killer
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 28, 2021 2:55 PM CDT

(Newser) – A jury returned a guilty verdict Friday in the 2018 slaying of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20-year-old Iowa college student. Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a farmhand and Mexican national, was convicted of first-degree murder after seven hours of deliberations, NBC reports. Rivera, 26, faces the state's mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Tibbetts had disappeared after going jogging. Her body was found in a cornfield a month later. It was a case the defense was unlikely to win, an MSNBC legal analyst said. "He led them to the body, and he confessed that he blacked out down the critical time and he was on the video stalking her, circling her in his car," said Cynthia Alksne.

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Rivera admitted to following Tibbetts in his car and fighting with her, but not to killing her. In closing arguments, defense lawyer Chad Frese told jurors they should have doubts about the prosecution's case. "It’s not your job to impart vengeance," he said, per the Des Moines Register. The prosecutor showed the jury a photo of Tibbetts, smiling. Scott Brown pointed at Rivera, saying, "She crossed paths with him, and it ended her life." In a closing that lasted more than an hour, Brown said: "Five weeks, her body lay in that cornfield. And you know who knew about that? One man." (Rivera walked back his confession on the stand this week.)

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