Judge to Decide If Confession by Mollie Tibbetts’s Accused Killer Must Be Completely Kept Out of Trial

UPDATE, Oct. 22: The Tuesday hearing has been postponed.

How much evidence can prosecutors use against Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the man who allegedly murdered 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts? A state judge is expected to hear arguments from both sides in a hearing scheduled to begin Tuesday.

The Law&Crime Network is scheduled to air the proceedings.

The defendant allegedly admitted to seeing Tibbetts when she was out jogging, parking his car and running after her. According to this account, Tibbetts said she was going to call the cops, and Rivera got mad. The defendant didn’t remember the murder itself — apparently because he was so angry — but he recalled finding himself at an intersection with Tibbetts in the trunk of his vehicle, cops said.

Prosecutors said that his initial statements shouldn’t be used as trial evidence, according The Des Moines Register. The state said that, yes, Rivera wasn’t properly given his Miranda warning at about 11:30 p.m. on August 20, 2018. He wasn’t told that what he said could be used against him, they acknowledged. The prosecution said he only got a proper notification the following morning at 5:50 a.m near where Tibbetts’s body was located.

The state stopped short of agreeing to keep Rivera’s alleged initial statements completely barred from a trial. They want the option to use the statements to rebut testimony.

The defense has previously attacked the alleged circumstances behind the confession, saying it was coerced.

In any case, the prosecution is suggesting they could prove their case anyway, though they insisted there was nothing untoward about the police interview tactics.

“The defendant led police directly to Mollie’s body at the conclusion of the interview, he was seen in proximity to Mollie while she was running on the last night of her life, and Mollie’s blood was found in the trunk of the Defendant’s car,” they wrote. “All of these facts are extrinsic to the interview and independently establish the defendant was the killer, not a false confessor.”

The case caught national attention in part because authorities say Rivera is an undocumented immigrant. Tibbetts’s family has pushed back on anti-immigrant responses to the her death, and in 2018 her mother Laura Calderwood took in a 17-year-old boy who had family ties to the alleged killer. As indicted in interviews, the healing process remains painful and fraught for the family. Calderwood told ABC News in a May report that people have asked her if she will ever forgive Rivera.

“And I said I’ve gone nowhere near that,” she said.

[Screengrab via NBC News]

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