Prosecutors: Blood found in trunk of murder suspect’s car confirmed as Mollie Tibbetts’

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MONTEZUMA, Iowa (WOI) – A DNA analysis has revealed that blood found in 24-year-old Cristhian Rivera’s car trunk belongs to 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts, who was killed last summer, according to prosecutors.

In court documents filed Friday morning, Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver and Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown refuted the defense team’s argument that Rivera’s Constitutional rights were violated due to promises of leniency and a language barrier between him and law enforcement.

Rivera allegedly “blocked his memory” after he followed Tibbetts, got out of his vehicle and dragged her body into a cornfield. Per a criminal complaint, Rivera realized he had put Tibbetts in the trunk of his car and noticed blood on the side of her head.

After viewing surveillance footage of the area where Tibbetts was believed to have been running before her July 18, 2018 disappearance, a black Chevy Malibu “drew officers’ attention.”

“The black Malibu was observed on multiple occasions in the surveillance video in an approximate 25-minute period after officers observed the jogger, believed to be Mollie Tibbetts,” court documents read.

The surveillance footage was reviewed on August 15, 2018, and just a day later, a Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Deputy spotted the car near the city of Malcomb. 

“[Deputy Steve Kivi] followed the Malibu but did not execute a vehicle stop. Rather, he waited until the driver stopped voluntarily before approaching him. When Kivi approached the driver, he identified himself and utilized the services of a neighbor to assist in interpreting for him,” the Friday filing says. “Kivi asked for and was provided paperwork from the driver that identified the person speaking to him as Cristhian Rivera. Kivi explained to the Defendant that he was working on the Tibbetts investigation and asked him if he knew anything about her disappearance. The Defendant claimed to have no knowledge of Tibbetts’s whereabouts.”

Law enforcement contacted Rivera at his workplace, Yarrabee Farms, on August 20. The Malibu was located on the property, and Rivera consented to a search of both the Malibu and another vehicle.

It was at that point that Rivera was asked to come to the sheriff’s office, to which he agreed.

In addition to Iowa City Police Officer Pamela Romero, a Spanish-speaking officer, leading the interview, prosecutors say it wasn’t until months after that DNA analysis returned on suspected blood found on Rivera’s car. 

“The DCI lab performed DNA analysis on suspected blood found in the trunk of the Defendant’s vehicle, the Chevy Malibu,” prosecutors write. “The results of the analysis confirmed the presence of blood in the trunk of the Defendant’s vehicle and DNA developed from that blood was matched to the known DNA of Mollie Tibbetts.”

Prosecutors continue with an explanation of why Rivera was interviewed in the first place. 

“The Defendant was not confronted with specific evidence of guilt during the interview because, at that time, police had little evidence of guilt with which to confront Rivera. The Defendant was questioned because he drove a car that was similar to one seen on the video at the approximate time the jogger believed to be Mollie was observed.”

According to the filing, Rivera was allowed to have his cell phone and told where the exits were before he was placed in custody several hours into the interview that began around 5 p.m. on August 20.

“At approximately 11:30 p.m., a federal immigration agent interviewed the Defendant by phone concerning whether he was in the country illegally. Following the interview, the Defendant was advised that a detainer would be placed on him. The decision to place the Defendant in custody was made by ICE, without consulting Officer Romero, who was interviewing the Defendant.”

Prosecutors note that following Rivera’s arrest, the extensive interview process that spanned over 11 hours did contain a total of 10 breaks. Rivera’s attorneys cited the long, overnight hours following a full day of work as reasons to render any information obtained through the interview inadmissible.

A June 25 hearing will be held to address the pending motion to suppress statements from law enforcement.

Rivera is set to go to trial in Woodbury County on September 3 after a change of venue request was granted.

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