Jury selected in Rivera trial, testimonies to begin in the case of the death of Mollie Tibbetts

Eight women and seven men will serve as jurors for the trial beginning Wednesday morning.

Cristhian+Bahena+Rivera+walks+into+the+Poweshiek+County+courthouse+for+day+two+of+an+evidence+suppression+hearing+at+the+Poweshiek+County+Courthouse+on+Thursday%2C+Nov.+14%2C+2019+in+Montezuma.+Bahena+Rivera+confessed+to+killing+Molly+Tibbetts+last+year+but+his+attorneys+filed+a+motion+to+suppress+the+confession+because+he+was+not+properly+read+his+Miranda+warning+during+initial+interviews+with+police.

Brian Powers/The Register

Cristhian Bahena Rivera walks into the Poweshiek County courthouse for day two of an evidence suppression hearing at the Poweshiek County Courthouse on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Montezuma. Bahena Rivera confessed to killing Molly Tibbetts last year but his attorneys filed a motion to suppress the confession because he was not properly read his Miranda warning during initial interviews with police.

Rachel Schilke, Summer Editor


Jury selection for the trial over the death of Mollie Tibbetts is in, ending the two-day selection process and moving the projected 10-day trial toward preliminary statements and witness testimonies.

Eight women and seven men will serve as jurors in the trial for Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, who stands accused of first-degree murder. If convicted, he will serve life in prison.

Three of the 15 jurors will act as alternates. As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the jury could not be seated until both parties had interviewed every prospective juror.

Eleven of the selected jurors appear to be white. As previously reported by the DI, one juror said on Monday he felt bad for Bahena Rivera when it came to listening to proceedings with a translator.

“…It’s supposed to be a jury of your peers,” the juror said on Monday. “It doesn’t really look that way.”

After beginning with a pool of 175 potential jurors, the prosecution and defense cleared 37 jurors for consideration. More than 13 prospective jurors were interviewed on Tuesday.

Many of the prospective jurors questioned Monday and Tuesday were born and raised in Scott County or in the surrounding Quad City area.

The crime took place in Poweshiek County, near Brooklyn, Iowa, where Tibbetts lived. Tibbets went missing on July 18, 2018, prompting a state-wide search that received national attention.

The search ended in August, 2018, when Bahena Rivera led authorities to her body. An autopsy later revealed she died of sharp force injury by multiple stab wounds.

Bahena Rivera was employed and resided in Poweshiek County for four to seven years. He was originally from El Guayabillo, Guerrero, Mexico.

Defense attorney Chad Frese made reference to both Bahena Rivera’s race and immigration status during the initial questioning of jurors to determine if those facts would sway any juror from remaining impartial.

None of the publicly interviewed jurors said that would be an issue.

Under the U.S. Constitution, undocumented immigrants are granted the same constitiutional rights as U.S. citizens, including the right to due process, the right to a jury trial, and the right to legal counsel. It is unclear at this time if Bahena Rivera entered the country illegally.

Bahena Rivera’s immigration status has been a subject of debate since 2018, when a lawyer said he was working legally but his employer said he was not. It was eventually discovered that Bahena Rivera had provided false information on his employment status.

Frese said during Tuesday’s jury selection that he faced a problem of whether to counsel Bahena Rivera, who does not speak English as a primary language, to testify, or encourage him to exercise his right to remain silent.

“This is the spot I find myself in: If I tell him to testify, it looks like he’s up there trying to save his own neck,” Frese said. “… If I tell him not to testify, then it looks like he has something to hide… I run the risk of a jury presuming he is guilty.”

When asked if they would hold it against Bahena Rivera if he did not testify, many jurors said no. One juror cited his inability to speak English as a logical reason for him to not testify.

Frese asked several questions regarding police involvement and false confessions, suggesting he will discuss Bahena Rivera’s confession and other aspects of the investigation by state and federal authorities during this week’s trial.

The trial by jury begins Wednesday. It is expected to continue up to 10 days. Initial jury information, preliminary statements, and witness testimonies are expected to be presented starting Wednesday.

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