In July 2008, Jodi Arias bluffed her way into the home of former lover Travis Alexander, then after the two had had sex, lured him into the shower, stabbed him in the back, then multiple times, all but hacked off his head, then put a bullet in his brain for good measure.
When she was arrested, she denied at first having seen him for months, then finally admitted killing him but claimed self-defense. Her second story though was ridiculous; she claimed Travis had been murdered in her presence by two people – a man and a woman – dressed as ninjas.
Almost ten years to the day later, Cristhian Bahena Rivera murdered University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts in dissimilar circumstances, but his defense was broadly similar. At first he denied the crime, then he admitted it, finally, he claimed to have been press-ganged into disposing of her body by two anonymous individuals.
Mollie Tibbetts was just twenty years old and athletic; on July 28, 2018, she went out for a regular run, and never returned. Three weeks later, Rivera led police to her body deep in a cornfield. As might be expected, it had decomposed severely, but forensic evidence indicated she had been stabbed multiple times, and if she hadn’t been raped, her partially naked body had been posed provocatively. Rivera was charged with first degree murder, and his trial was screened live over the Internet, as was the trial of Jodi Arias, and Casey Anthony before her.
The case was prosecuted by Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown. His job was straightforward enough, but what is a defense attorney to do with such an obviously guilty client and such overwhelming evidence? The answer is he must zealously represent him to the full extent of the law, which is what both Rivera’s attorneys, the husband and wife team of Chad and Jennifer Frese, did.
One point of argument rather than evidence was that Rivera was a small man, a wimp in fact, how could he have overpowered a physically fit, young woman? Ask Jodi Arias, a knife is a great leveller, especially when combined with the element of surprise. There was no shortage of other suspects. In closing as under cross-examination, Chad Frese as good as accused the victim’s boyfriend of the murder. The only problem was that Dalton Jack had been questioned many times about what was initially a missing person inquiry, and had been eliminated. He appeared to have a decent alibi, and unlike Rivera there was no confession, and more importantly no bundles of forensic evidence connecting him to the murder. Rivera’s ludicrous final story was also a thinly disguised attempt to point the finger at Jack.
The defense even called as a witness a young woman who claimed or insinuated her father had murdered Mollie Tibbetts, after all, he had sexually abused her when she was a child. The State objected to that, and in any case, along with all the other suspects, this man – who will not be named here – had been eliminated from the list of suspects, which now stood at precisely one.
In any criminal trial, a jury must convict only beyond all reasonable doubt, not any doubt at all, otherwise no one could ever be convicted of any crime, or as one MailOnline commenter put it: “I’m surprised he didn’t try to say aliens took over his body or he was covering up for Big Foot. Either of those are more credible stories.”
On Friday, the jury delivered a verdict of guilty of murder in the first degree. When it was announced, Rivera nodded his head in seeming agreement. As for the entire trial, he was wearing headphones, but he must surely understand sufficient English to recognise that word. The judge remanded him for sentencing on July 15 at Montezuma, Iowa. He doesn’t face the death penalty, but he will surely not be a free man again if ever until after Halley’s comet returns in 2061.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.