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The man on trial for allegedly killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts took the stand in his own defense Wednesday — and spun a yarn about how two armed, masked men forced him to drive to her jogging spot before later ditching him with her body in the trunk.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 26, an illegal Mexican immigrant, testified using a translator on Wednesday in Scott County District Court about how the mystery men showed up in his trailer on the day that Tibbetts, 20, went missing in July 2018.
“The bigger [man] I could see that he had a gun and the smaller one I could see that he had a knife,” Bahena Rivera told the court.
He said the men were wearing stocking caps and told him, “You shouldn’t do anything stupid, and everything was going to be okay.”
Bahena Rivera said he got into his car with the two men and was told to drive “straight.”
“One of them said to the other one something about someone running,” Bahena Rivera said, adding that he understands some basic English.
Bahena Rivera said they drove by a jogger, whom he now identifies as Tibbetts.
“We just continued driving and they asked me to turn around,” Bahena Rivera said.
Bahena Rivera said the men crouched down in their seats as they drove around town, passing Tibbetts three or four times.
He claimed he was directed to stop at some point and the man with the knife jumped out while the other grew nervous and said, “Come on, Jack.”
When the man returned about 12 minutes later, they instructed him to continue driving before he was ordered to stop and hand over his keys about 1,000 feet later, he said.
“I heard them opening the trunk,” he said, adding there was some movement in the car before he heard them close the trunk again.
He said he then was instructed to drive again until they reached a white house, where the men took his keys and phone and told him to wait a few minutes before he left.
He said that the men ran toward the road and he never saw them again.
When he got out of the car, he went to check the trunk since he “obviously knew there was something” there and discovered Tibbetts’ body, he said.
“In the beginning, I saw a little bit of movements, but then after there was no movement,” he said.
Bahena Rivera said he picked up her body from the trunk and it was “very heavy.”
“I picked her up and then I put her in the cornfield,” he said, adding that he covered his body with corn stalks because he “didn’t want her to be too exposed to the sun.”
He insisted that he didn’t go to the police because he was “scared” since it wouldn’t have been “seen as good [or] right.”
Prosecutors pointed out during cross-examination Wednesday that the two men never came up when he was interviewed at the sheriff’s office five weeks after Tibbetts’ disappearance.
“You were given an opportunity in the presence of law enforcement to tell what you’ve told us here today… And you chose not to do that,” Prosecutor Scott Brown said.
Bahena Rivera has said that he was “really scared” and feared that the men would retaliate against him.
He acknowledged that he wasn’t entirely truthful when he initially told authorities that he had no knowledge of what happened to Tibbetts.
Bahena Rivera eventually admitted to investigators that he hid her body in a cornfield, but that he “blacked out” and couldn’t recall how she was killed.
He claimed that he led authorities to Tibbets’ body because he was growing tired from the interrogation.
Prosecutors pointed out there were other inconsistencies in his testimony, including how he initially claimed to authorities that he had been running behind Tibbetts when she became “angry” and tried to slap him.
The dairy farm worker — who has been charged with first-degree murder — faces life in prison if convicted.
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