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Criminal defense attorney breaks down Mollie Tibbetts trial

Updated: May. 16, 2021 at 10:59 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - After almost three years, the man accused of killing Mollie Tibbetts is set to stand trial starting Monday with jury selection. Cristian Bahena Rivera is charged with First Degree Murder, accused of stabbing Tibbetts to death.

Tibbetts was last seen July 18th of 2018 while out on a run in her hometown of Brooklyn. The University of Iowa Student was reported missing the next day

The FBI and people in the community searched for weeks for Tibbetts, including a pig farm in Guernsey. Police arrested Bahena Rivera, AND prosecutors filed first degree murder charges on August 21st of 2018.

Police say he led them to Tibbett’s body in a corn field. Eric Tindal is a defense attorney for Keegan Tindal and Jaeger in Iowa City. He says he has covered plenty of murder trials.

“I think what makes this trial stand out was the national attention it received at the beginning of the case,” he said. “And the national attention it received due to the political environment, particularly given illegal immigrants at the time.”

He says that will create some challenges for jury selection, even with a trial moved to Scott County.

“Really the trick in jury selection is to try to take out the things or get out on the table some of the implicit bias of each individual juror,” he said.

Tindal says Bahena Rivera’s team will have to overcome the assumption of guilt for their client, and will have to insert doubt in the jury’s minds. While the prosecution will focus on the evidence they’ve collected over nearly three years.

“In this particular case as I understand those facts,” he said. “The defendant actually took them to the area where the body was found. And so I think that’s the single strongest fact that the state has in its arsenal.”

Tindal says the trial could last two weeks, but possibly longer depending on how jury selection goes.

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