Boyfriend denies role in Iowa college student's 2018 slaying

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Cristhian Bahena Rivera listens his murder trial at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa, on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. Rivera is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette via AP, Pool)

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The boyfriend of a University of Iowa student testified Wednesday that he had nothing to do with her 2018 abduction and stabbing death, saying he had been out of town for work and was heartbroken by her slaying.

Dalton Jack, the longtime boyfriend of Mollie Tibbetts, was a key witness on the first day of the first-degree murder trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the Mexican national charged in her killing.

Prosecutor Bart Klaver said in his opening statement Wednesday that video evidence, DNA analysis and a partial confession by Bahena Rivera, a dairy farm worker, will be crucial to proving his guilt. Tibbetts, 20, disappeared while out for a run in Brooklyn, Iowa, on July 18, 2018. Her body was recovered a month later in a cornfield.

During cross-examination, defense lawyers for Bahena Rivera worked to try to cast suspicion on Jack, painting him as a man with a temper who had a tumultuous relationship with Tibbetts and had cheated on her with at least one other woman.

But Klaver said a homeowner’s surveillance video will show Bahena Rivera’s black Chevy Malibu appearing to circle Tibbets as she ran. Bahena Rivera, now 26, told police that he drove past Tibbetts and turned around to get a second look because he thought she was “hot,” Klaver said.

Bahena Rivera admitted to investigators that he got out of his car and ran to catch up with her, and became angry and fought with her after she threatened to call police, Klaver said. Bahena Rivera said the next thing he remembered was driving his Malibu with her bloody body in the trunk, which he then carried over his shoulder and hid beneath stalks in a cornfield, the prosecutor said.

Klaver said blood found in the trunk matched Tibbetts’ DNA. He said an autopsy found that she had been stabbed from seven to 12 times in the chest, ribs, neck, and skull, and that she died from sharp force injuries.

If convicted, Bahena Rivera faces life in prison without parole.