Tibbetts murder suspect enters plea, trial date set

Cristhian Rivera, with the assistance of his lawyers and an interpreter, listen to Judge Joel Yates during Rivera's arraignment.

Montezuma, Iowa- The suspect in the slaying of Mollie Tibbetts said little as he appeared in court on September 19, for a rare in court arraignment. Cristhian Bahena Rivera entered a plea of not guilty to one charge of first-degree murder. He had been formally charged by trial information on September 14. At the arraignment, Judge Joel Yates set a trial date for April 16, 2019. 

As of now, the trial is set to be held in Poweshiek County, where Tibbetts was abducted and later found dead. A pretrial conference will be held on April 4, with a trial management conference, where the status of trial will be discussed, being held on December 12, 2018. During the hearing, Rivera, through his attorney and interpreter, waived his right to a trial within 90 days. His right to a trial within one year still stands. After the arraignment, Rivera’s attorney, Chad Frese, said that Rivera is doing fine.

“He’s anxious to get this going,” Frese said. Frese added that due to the amount of evidence to be reviewed and the number of issues in the case, he and Rivera felt that waiting his right to a trial in 90 days was the best move. “This is a complicated case. It has a lot of evidence to be analyzed. There’s a lot of work we have to do. It’s a strategic move that we have chosen to take,” he said. He added that he believes the April trial date to be “solid” with the hopes of being able to start the trial around that day. Frese hinted that a change of venue may be in order for the case.

“We will analyze that as the evidence comes in and time goes on. This has gotten a lot of publicity and that’s certainly a consideration,” Frese said. “We have to find a place, no matter where it is, whether it’s Poweshiek county, or anyplace, see if we can find a jury of 12 people that will hear the case impartially,” he added. 

For more on this story, catch the September 26 edition of the News-Review.