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Iowa farmer gets life in prison for murder of Mollie Tibbetts


A farm worker was sentenced to life in prison on Monday without parole for the fatal stabbing of an Iowa student in 2018, a crime which Donald J. Trump seized upon as then president that he was amplifying his tough policy against illegal immigration.

Farm worker Cristhian Bahena Rivera was convicted in May of the kidnapping and murder of Mollie Tibbetts, 20, a University of Iowa student who disappeared after going for a run.

It took more than a month before Mr. Bahena Rivera led investigators to the body of Ms. Tibbetts, which had been hidden in a cornfield outside of Brooklyn, Iowa, her hometown.

The arrest of Mr. Bahena Rivera, who had been described by authorities as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, quickly caught Mr. Trump’s attention. The president sought to use the case to his political advantage in the 2018 midterm elections and in his efforts to build a border wall.

Mr Bahena Rivera, 27, was expressionless when a social worker in the state attorney general’s office read a victim impact statement written by Ms Tibbetts’ mother Laura Calderwood on Monday in a court in Montezuma district, Iowa.

Ms Calderwood said in the statement her daughter had so much to wait until the evening of July 18, 2018.

“You have chosen to end this life in a violent and sadistic way,” Ms. Calderwood said. “Who could harm such a beautiful and vibrant young woman, full of life and promise?

Ms Calderwood said she would never recover from the murder of her daughter and having had to tell Ms Tibbetts’ grandmother and other family members that her body was found.

Due to Mr Bahena Rivera’s actions, she said, Ms Tibbetts’ boyfriend would never be able to give her the engagement ring he bought for her.

“Because of your actions, Mollie’s father, Rob, will never be able to walk his only daughter down the aisle,” Ms. Calderwood said. “Because of your actions, Mr. Rivera, I will never see my daughter become a mother. “

Mr. Bahena Rivera, who plans to appeal his conviction, did not speak during the sentencing. His lawyers also declined to comment.

Credit…Pool photo by Jim Slosiarek

In Iowa, a conviction for first degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Lawyers for Mr. Bahena Rivera tried unsuccessfully to claim that someone else had committed the murder.

During his trial, the Des Moines Register reported, Mr. Bahena Rivera said two armed and masked men confronted him at his home and ordered him to drive them to Brooklyn, where one of them was taken to Brooklyn. killed Ms Tibbetts, put her body in her trunk and ordered her to go to a cornfield.

Eighth Judicial District Judge Joel D. Yates rejected this defense in sentencing.

“Sir. Bahena Rivera, you and you alone forever changed the lives of those who loved Mollie Tibbetts,” Judge Yates said.

The judge also ordered Mr. Bahena Rivera to pay restitution of $ 150,000 to Ms. Tibbetts’ family and denied her bail while he appealed his conviction.

Ms. Tibbetts, a psychology student and summer camp counselor, grew up in San Francisco and Brooklyn, a small town between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.

Investigators said blood matching her DNA was found in the trunk of Mr Bahena Rivera’s car, which had been captured by a home security camera near where Ms Tibbetts was running.

Scott D. Brown, a special assistant state attorney general, called the evidence against Mr. Bahena Rivera “overwhelming” and said it supported a life sentence.

“Based on the facts and circumstances of this case,” Mr. Brown said, “it is very well deserved.”



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