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Suspect led investigators to the body of Mollie Tibbetts, Iowa prosecutor tells jurors

Cristhian Bahena Rivera is charged with murdering the University of Iowa student in summer 2018.

There can be "no other conclusion" than that a farmhand fatally stabbed a University of Iowa student and dumped her body in a cornfield, a prosecutor told jurors on Wednesday.

It's been nearly three years since the slaying of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts, and Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver said all the evidence points to defendant Cristhian Bahena Rivera as the perpetrator.

"Ladies and gentlemen, when you examine this evidence together, there can be can be no other conclusion that the defendant killed Mollie Tibbetts," Klaver told jurors in Davenport.

"And I’ll ask you to return a verdict, the only verdict that justice demands, that you find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree."

In a brief opening statement, Klaver said sheriff's investigators linked Rivera to Tibbetts through a security video that allegedly showed his black Chevy Malibu — with chrome door handles and mirrors — driving past the jogging victim in Brooklyn, Iowa, where she was housesitting.

The dairy farm worker admitted to spotting Tibbetts on July 18, 2018, finding her pretty, approaching her and getting into a struggle before taking her body to a corn field, according to the prosecutor. He allegedly led investigators to a corn field near the Poweshiek-Iowa County line where Tibbetts' decomposed body was found on Aug. 21, 2018.

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

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

“He remembered Mollie being in the trunk, his admission of taking Mollie's bloody body out of the trunk, putting her on his shoulder, taking her into the field and leaving her there, covering her with corn stalks," Klaver said.

Tibbetts was housesitting at the home of Blake Jack, the older brother of her boyfriend Dalton Jack.

The avid jogger grew up in Brooklyn, a small town in the middle of Iowa about halfway between Des Moines and Iowa City. The rural community is so close-knit, residents rarely give a second thought to home security.

When Blake Jack first learned that Tibbetts was missing, he rushed home and went inside, without touching his keys.

"I just walked in the door: We don't lock the doors in our small town," he told Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown.

Tibbetts failed to show up to her job at a daycare center on July 19 and didn't let anyone know she'd be absent, which was out of character, her supervisor Jillena Scheck testified.

The day Tibbetts missed work was a big one at the daycare center, as they took children to the county fair, according to Scheck.

One of the last people to see Tibbetts might have been local hair salon owner Christina Stewart, who drove past the young woman as she was jogging at about 7:45 p.m. on July 18.

The salon owner told jurors she found out 24 hours later that Tibbetts was missing: “My heart sank because I knew I passed her (the day before).”

Tibbetts was jogging as her boyfriend Dalton Jack was more than 100 miles away at a hotel in Dubuque, staying overnight while working a construction site, he testified.

During cross-examination on Wednesday, the defense sought to paint Dalton Jack as an unfaithful boyfriend with anger management issues. He admitted to struggling with anger as a teenager and that he had cheated on his girlfriend.

When asked by defense lawyer Chad Frese why he didn't tell sheriff's investigators about past cheating, Dalton Jack said: "I didn't deem it necessary, I didn’t think it was pertinent to the case.”

He told prosecutors on the witness stand he's confident detectives arrested the right man.

“I wholeheartedly believe he’s guilty," said Dalton Jack, a 23-year-old U.S. Army sergeant based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with the 82nd Airborne Division.

The case against Rivera, a Mexican national charged with stabbing Tibbetts in July 2018, drew national attention when former President Donald Trump and other Republicans said the tragedy was made possible by lax immigration laws.

The 26-year-old Rivera wore headphones in court on Wednesday to listen to proceedings through a Spanish-speaking interpreter.

His defense team declined to make an opening statement, electing to speak to jurors at the end of state's case.

Rivera has pleaded not guilty.

The car allegedly used in the crime was purchased for Rivera by his cousin, and he made monthly payments to her in cash.

“Because he is my cousin and he needed a way of transportation," Arely Nunez-Lorenzna testified, explaining why she agreed to the unusual automobile arrangement.

When asked why Rivera couldn't have purchased this car under his own name, Nunez-Lorenzna said, "cause he wasn't able to" as an undocumented immigrant.

Rivera was reliable in making payments of a little more than $300, "it was always first of the month," Nunez-Lorenzna said.