Prosecution case leans on surveillance footage, DNA evidence, and partial confession
In his opening statement to jurors, Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver said that the video, DNA analysis, and a partial confession will be critical in the case against farmworker Cristhian Bahena Rivera.
Mr Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, is charged with first-degree murder for allegedly stabbing the 20-year-old student to death in 2018.
A homeowner’s surveillance video shows Mr Bahena Rivera’s black Chevy Malibu appearing to circle Ms Tibbets as she ran on 18 July, 2018, in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.
Mr Klaver said the accused, now 26, later told police that he drove past her and turned around to get a second look because he thought she was “hot”.
Mr Bahena Rivera admitted to the authorities 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 the police, the prosecutor said.
The next thing he says that he remembered was driving his car with her bloody body in the trunk, which he then carried over his shoulder and hid underneath stalks in a cornfield, according to the prosecution.
Mr Klaver said blood found on the trunk and trunk liner matched Ms Tibbetts’ DNA, which was recovered from the body.
He said an autopsy found that she had been stabbed between seven and 12 times in the chest, ribs, neck, and skull, and that she died from sharp force injuries.
The defence team for Mr Bahena Rivera, who has pleaded not guilty, has deferred their opening statement to later in the trial, which is expected to last two weeks at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport.
The death of Ms Tibbetts sparked a renewed debate surrounding immigration in the US, and caught the attention of then-president Donald Trump, who used the killing as evidence to make the case that immigrants are a danger to the country.
Ms Tibbetts’ family said they resented the way in which Mr Trump politicised their daughter’s murder and that she had stood in diametric opposition to his political platform.
If convicted, Mr Bahena Rivera faces life in prison without parole.
With reporting from The Associated Press