Deputy talks surveillance video in Day 2 of testimony in Bahena Rivera trial

Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 12:22 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Thursday was Day 2 in the Cristhian Bahena Rivera murder trial.

Bahena Rivera is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts. Tibbetts went missing in July 2018 while on a run in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.

Investigators say Bahena Rivera led authorities to her body at a Poweshiek County cornfield weeks later.

On Thursday, the court heard from law enforcement who worked on investigating Tibbetts’ disappearance.

Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Kivi took the stand first. He talked about what led to authorities narrowing down the general location of Tibbetts’ run, including surveillance video from someone’s home.

“We had a team of law enforcement officers reviewing video from all kinds of places,” Deputy Kivi said. “In that particular video, the officers picked up on a Chevy Malibu that was seen in that area.”

Authorities had first seen the black Chevy Malibu on the home surveillance video of Logan Collins. Collins testified on Thursday and the jury watched the video which shows a person believed to be Mollie Tibbetts running.

The video also shows a black Chevy Malibu with chrome mirrors and door handles passing by.

“The vehicle passed through numerous times after seeing the runner pass through,” Derek Riessen with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation testified.

Kivi said he happened to see the black Chevy Malibu, linked to Cristhian Bahena Rivera, driving on August 16th of 2018, the day after investigators pegged it as a vehicle of interest.

“It caught my eye, I drove past it and then I pulled over to see where it was going to go because I wanted to identify that vehicle and that driver,” Kivi said.

Deputy Kivi later pulled over the Malibu with Bahena Rivera driving. He said Bahena Rivera also showed him a document as a birth certificate that had his full name and birthdate.

During an interview, Kivi asked Bahena Rivera questions, took pictures of him and the vehicle, and then let him go.

During cross-examination, defense attorneys asked Deputy Kivi about the search for Tibbetts.

He explained it concentrated in the southeastern portion of the county due to the last known location of her cell phone.

The defense brought up names of a couple of different men with a history of violence toward women, who lived near the area Tibbetts’ body was found. Authorities cleared both men during the investigation.

One of the names brought up was Wayne Cheney. Cheney had entered guilty pleas for stalking in the past, but police cleared him in Tibbetts case.

When first questioned by authorities, Bahena Rivera denied an encounter with Tibbetts at all, according to testimony.

Pamela Romera, who was an Iowa City Police officer at the time, was brought in to interview Bahena Rivera because she’s a native Spanish speaker. She testified that, after she showed him surveillance footage of his black Malibu near a runner, he began to confess.

She testified that Bahena Rivera admitted to parking his car behind Tibbetts, ran up to her, the two started fighting and told Romera that he blacked out, later remembering that Tibbetts’ body was in his trunk.

“He remembers that there was blood,” Romera testified, explaining that Bahena Rivera admitted to taking Tibbetts out of his car, carrying her body to the cornfield, and leaving right away.

Romero said as Bahena Rivera led her there, she tried to get more details about what happened.

“He tells me ‘I brought you here didn’t I? So that means I did it. I don’t know how I did it,’” Romera testified.

During cross-examination, the defense asked Romero to explain the term “false confession” and hinted that Bahena Rivera was coerced into a confession by being presented false information, such as hair being found in his car.

The defense also accused Romero of lying to Bahena Rivera in the interview, by making it clear to him she was not there to discuss his illegal immigration status, even though he ended up being placed into custody by ICE agents during one of his breaks.

The trial continues on Friday morning at 8:30 A.M.

Click here to see the live courtroom updates from coverage of the trial on Thursday.

For Thursday’s testimony, see the video below:

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