Cristhian Bahena Rivera Unanimously Found Guilty in Mollie Tibbetts' Murder

A 12-member jury unanimously found Cristhian Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder on Friday for the 2018 stabbing death of Mollie Tibbetts.

Bahena Rivera, a farm laborer who migrated to the U.S. from Mexico illegally, will be sentenced to life in prison after killing the University of Iowa student, who was abducted while on a run in 2018. His sentencing is the result of a two-week trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa.

The jury deliberated Rivera's fate for seven hours on Thursday and Friday in a trial that fueled public outrage over illegal immigration, as well as random violence against women, according to the Associated Press. The group consisted of three individuals of Hispanic, Latino or Spanish descent and nine others who are white.

Bahena Rivera has been in custody since his arrest in August 2018, after leading investigators to the 20-year-old's body in a cornfield. Judge Joel Yates ordered him to be held without bond ahead of a July 15 hearing for his sentencing.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Cristhian Bahena Rivera
In the May, 27, file photo, Cristhian Bahena Rivera listens as his attorney Chad Frese delivers his closing arguments in his trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa. Bahena Rivera has been found guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of Mollie Tibbetts, in July 2018. Charlie Neibergall/AP Photo

Bahena Rivera will be sentenced without the possibility of parole.

Tibbetts is remembered as a friendly person who was studying to become a child psychologist and ran track and cross country in high school.

She never returned home after going for a routine run in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, on the evening of July 18, 2018. She was reported missing the next day after she didn't show up for her summer job at a day care facility.

Her disappearance from the town of 1,700 was immediately deemed suspicious, and local, state and federal agencies joined hundreds of volunteers in a highly publicized search for her.

Investigators say they broke the case open nearly a month later after obtaining surveillance video from a homeowner that shows, for a split second, a shadowy figure that appears to be Tibbetts running in the distance. The video shows a black Chevy Malibu with chrome mirrors and door handles driving past 20 seconds later, and back and forth several times in the next 20 minutes.

A sheriff's deputy spotted Bahena Rivera, who worked at a local dairy farm, driving the distinctive vehicle the next day. During a lengthy interrogation that began August 20, 2018, Bahena Rivera said that he drove past Tibbetts while she was running and turned around to get another look because he found her attractive.

He eventually said that he approached Tibbetts and fought with her after she tried to get away and threatened to call police. He claimed that he then "blacked out" but remembered driving with her body in the trunk of his car. He led investigators in the early morning hours of August 21 to a remote cornfield where they found her badly decomposed body hidden under corn stalks.

An autopsy found that Tibbetts died of sharp force injuries from several stab wounds to her head, neck and chest. DNA testing showed that her blood was found in the trunk of the Malibu, but investigators never found the murder weapon.

Prosecutor Scott Brown said in a closing argument that Bahena Rivera killed Tibbetts out of anger after she rebuked him. He said Bahena Rivera also had a sexual motive, noting that Tibbetts was found partially naked with her legs spread when her body was found.

During dramatic testimony Wednesday, the 26-year-old Bahena Rivera denied that he killed Tibbetts. He claimed for the first time that two masked men took him at gunpoint from his trailer, forced him to drive as one of them killed Tibbetts on a rural road and directed him to a rural area where he left her body.

Bahena Rivera's defense suggested one of the men may have been Tibbetts' boyfriend, Dalton Jack, who admitted that he had an affair with another woman and past anger problems. But police said they cleared Jack, who had bought an engagement ring and planned to soon propose marriage to Tibbetts, after establishing that he was out of town for work when Tibbetts vanished.

Then-President Donald Trump, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and other Republicans had cited the vicious crime ahead of the 2018 midterm elections to call for harsher policies to deter illegal immigration. But their efforts eventually stopped after Tibbetts' parents said the slaying should not be used to advance a political agenda that Tibbetts would have opposed.