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Man convicted of murdering Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts sentenced to life in prison

"You, and you alone, forever changed the lives of those who loved Mollie Tibbetts," the judge told Cristhian Bahena Rivera before handing down the sentence.
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Cristhian Bahena Rivera was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2018 killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.

Judge Joel D. Yates told Bahena Rivera, "You, and you alone, forever changed the lives of those who loved Mollie Tibbetts. And for that, you and you alone will receive the following sentence."

Bahena Rivera, wearing a mask and headphones, was stoic as Yates told him he would serve a "lifetime sentence with no eligibility for parole."

Bahena Rivera, 27, was sentenced to the maximum penalty under the law in a high-profile case that also became politicized, in part because of the defendant's status as an undocumented immigrant.

Earlier this month, Yates rejected a request for a new trial for Bahena Rivera, who was convicted May 28 of first-degree murder in the death of 20-year-old Tibbetts.

Image: Mollie Tibbetts was reported missing from her hometown in the eastern Iowa city of Brooklyn on July 19, 2018.
Mollie Tibbetts was reported missing from her hometown in the eastern Iowa city of Brooklyn on July 19, 2018.Jenny Fiebelkorn

Yates dismissed Bahena Rivera’s claim that newly discovered evidence implicated other alleged suspects in Tibbetts' slaying.

In a 13-page decision, Yates said the evidence wasn’t new nor would it change the outcome of the trial. A jury deliberated for seven hours over two days before convicting Bahena Rivera.

Yates also rejected claims by Bahena Rivera’s lawyers that prosecutors suppressed evidence.

At the trial, Bahena Rivera took the witness stand and claimed two masked men were responsible for the murder but forced him to participate at gunpoint.

Tibbetts’ homicide became a hot-button political issue.

Bahena Rivera, a farmhand, led investigators to Tibbetts’ body in a Brooklyn, Iowa, cornfield nearly one month after she went jogging July 18, 2018, and vanished.

She had been stabbed between seven and 12 times in the chest, neck and skull, according to the prosecution.

On Monday, before Bahena Rivera was sentenced, a member of the prosecutor's office read a victim's impact statement from Tibbetts' mother, Laura Calderwood.

"Mollie was a young woman who simply wanted to go on a quiet run on the evening of July 18th, and you chose to violently and sadistically end that life," the statement read.

Calderwood also said in the statement how difficult it was to tell loved ones in her family about her daughter's death.

There was not an instance more difficult than when she had to tell her mother, and Mollie's grandmother, Judy Calderwood, who had faith her beloved granddaughter would be found alive, Laura Calderwood said in the statement.

"I very quietly and softly said, 'Mom, I have some bad news. They found Mollie's body this morning. ... Judy Calderwood's unwavering faith had been brutally shattered by your senseless act of violence."

The case against Rivera drew national attention when then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans argued the tragedy was made possible by weak immigration laws.

Tibbetts' family pushed back against that narrative and pleaded with politicians not to invoke her name to advance an anti-immigration agenda.

"Sadly, others have ignored our request. They have instead chosen to callously distort and corrupt Mollie’s tragic death to advance a cause she vehemently opposed. I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in its reasonable outcome," her father, Rob Tibbetts, wrote in the Des Moines Register.

"But do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist."