Jurors in the murder trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera on Friday found the defendant guilty in the 2018 killing of 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.
The guilty verdict concludes trial proceedings that began two weeks ago at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa. Bahena Rivera, 26, faced a first-degree murder charge for which he was convicted.
The jury deliberated for more than three hours Thursday afternoon before breaking and resuming deliberations Friday morning. They broke for lunch around 1:30 p.m. ET and reached the verdict at around 2:00 p.m., the Des Moines Register reports.
Reacting to the guilty verdict, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) said "justice was served."
"Iowans' hearts broke when Mollie Tibbetts was murdered by an undocumented immigrant in 2018," he tweeted. "[Today] the murderer was found guilty & justice was served for a senseless act of violence that took a young life."
Iowans’ hearts broke when Mollie Tibbetts was murdered by an undocumented immigrant in 2018 2day the murderer was f… https://t.co/Y8uPvdsd9x— ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley)1622227717.0
Tibbetts' disappearance after going out for a jog in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa and the subsequent month-long search for her became a national news story in 2018. Her body wasn't discovered until Bahena Rivera led police to where it was hidden after confessing to her killing during interrogation.
After police arrested Bahena Rivera for her murder, his immigration status made the killing politically charged. Then-President Donald Trump called Tibbett's death a "disgrace" at campaign rallies, advocating for tougher laws on crime and increased border security to deter illegal immigration.
During the trial, the defense argued that Bahena Rivera gave a false confession to police and observed that investigators never found a murder weapon nor produced witnesses showing where Tibbetts was killed.
Testifying in his own defense, Bahena Rivera claimed two armed, masked men forced him to help abduct Tibbetts and hide her body, contradicting what he previously told police.
The defense also attempted to tie the killing to Tibbetts' boyfriend, Dalton Jack, arguing investigators did not look at him thoroughly.
The prosecution told the jury that "overwhelming evidence" pointed to Bahena Rivera as the killer, citing his confession and producing a witness that testified that Jack was more than two-hours away from where Tibbetts was when she disappeared.
Prosecutor Scott Brown said Bahena Rivera's testimony was a "figment of his imagination." He argued that the defendant drove past Tibbetts as she was jogging on July 18, 2018 and made advances towards her.
After she rejected him, Bahena Rivera got angry, the prosecution said.
"The way he reacts with that anger is to stab this young woman to death and to dump her body in a cornfield," Brown told the jury.
Now convicted, Bahena Rivera faces life in prison for Tibbetts' murder.
Editor's note: This story was updated on Friday May 28, 2021 at 3:40 p.m. ET.