Iowa Farmworker Gets Life in Prison for the Murder of Mollie Tibbetts
The 27-year-old man convicted of first-degree murder in the 2018 abduction and killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts was sentenced on Monday afternoon to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, an undocumented farmworker from Mexico, was sentenced after a victim impact statement from Tibbetts’ mother, Laura Calderwood, was read in court by a victim advocate from the Iowa State Attorney General’s Office.
Yates pointedly rejected defense claims that others were responsible for the crime.
“Mr. Bahena Rivera, you and you alone forever changed the lives of those who loved Mollie Tibbetts,” he said.
The sentence caps a case that inflamed anger over illegal immigration, fueled fears about violence against solo female runners, and took several noteworthy twists during and after Bahena Rivera’s trial in May.
Tibbetts’ mother, Laura Calderwood, addressed Bahena Rivera in a victim impact statement read to the court.
“Mollie was a young woman who simply wanted to go for a quiet run on the evening of July 18 and you chose to violently and sadistically end that life,” she wrote.
Calderwood recalled being told by tearful investigators that her 20-year-old daughter’s body had been found, and racing to inform relatives before they learned the news from the media. The hardest conversation was with Mollie’s grandmother, who was in disbelief that someone “could harm such a beautiful, vibrant young woman so full of promise,” she said.
She said the killing caused Hispanic workers to flee the area in fear, prevented Mollie’s boyfriend from being able to give her the engagement ring he had purchased, and meant her father would never walk his only daughter down the aisle.
“Because of your actions Mr. Rivera, I will never get to see my daughter become a mother,” Calderwood said.
Tibbetts vanished on a rural road outside her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, population 1,700, while out for a run on July 18, 2018. Family members and co-workers feared something was wrong when Tibbetts did not show up for her summer job at a daycare the next morning.
“Based upon the facts and circumstances of this case, it is very well deserved,” prosecutor Scott Brown said of the life sentence.
In a stunning twist, Bahena Rivera, who speaks little English, testified in his own defense at his trial, claiming he was kidnapped by two masked and armed men, who forced him to drive to where Tibbetts was jogging and one of them killed her and put her body in his car’s trunk.
He claimed he put Tibbetts’ body in the cornfield, but did not go to the police because the kidnappers threatened to harm his ex-girlfriend, the mother of his young daughter, if he spoke to authorities.