Saturday, May 15, 2021

Cristhian Bahena Rivera: IOWA: Jury selection to begin Monday: (May 17): Des Moines Register (Reporters William Morris and Robin Opsahl) introduces us to the 'key players' in the case..."Nearly three years after Mollie Tibbetts went missing near her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, the trial of the man accused of killing her is about to begin. Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 26, is charged with first-degree murder. His trial begins May 17 in Davenport. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted. Tibbetts' disappearance, the subsequent search for her, and the eventual discovery of her body and arrest of Bahena Rivera drew national attention, and the parties have spent years preparing their cases amid multiple delays and shifts in venue. Here's what you should know about some of the key names as the trial gets underway."

PUBLISHERS NOTE: I have been following this case because of the ‘confession’ related issues - and the degree to which it has become politicized. As the trial is expected to be widely televised (the courtroom will be closed to the public) I will not be reporting on the proceedings on a daily basis. I will  only join in if  warranted by  testimony,  evidence. or issues relevant to this blog .

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.


STORY: "Key players in the trial of Christhian Bahena Rivera, the man accused of killing Mollie Tibbetts, by William Morris  and Robin Opsahl, published by The Des Moines Register on May 13, 2021. 

GIST: "Nearly three years after Mollie Tibbetts went missing near her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, the trial of the man accused of killing her is about to begin. Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 26, is charged with first-degree murder. His trial begins May 17 in Davenport. He faces life in prison without parole if convicted.  Tibbetts' disappearance, the subsequent search for her, and the eventual discovery of her body and arrest of Bahena Rivera drew national attention, and the parties have spent years preparing their cases amid multiple delays and shifts in venue.

Here's what you should know about some of the key names as the trial gets underway.

Mollie Tibbetts:

Mollie Tibbetts, 20, was a University of Iowa student studying psychology who had returned to her hometown of Brooklyn the summer before her disappearance on July 18, 2018. Her body was found more than a month later, Aug. 21, in a cornfield after a massive search effort. She had been stabbed to death, investigators said. She was born in San Francisco and moved to Iowa with her mother and siblings after her parents separated when she was in the second grade. Teachers and classmates remembered her as kind, dedicated and empathetic even at a young age.

Tibbetts was described by family and friends as "everyone's counselor," with an “infectious laugh and beautiful smile,” who also had a silly and stubborn side. She journaled and wrote poetry. After graduating, she planned to go to graduate school and become a psychiatrist. Having finished her freshman year, she was taking classes and working at a day camp with Grinnell Regional Medical Center, not far from Brooklyn, helping school-age children with literacy, crafts and other activities. "We’re trying really hard to not make her Saint Mollie," Rob Tibbetts, her father, told the Register in a 2018 interview. "Mollie is super average."

More:Mollie Tibbetts' poetry describes slain woman in her own words

Mollie Tibbetts' family:

Mollie Tibbetts was close with her family, even after her parents separated. She lived with her two brothers and mother in Iowa from a young age, moving away from California — but she remained close with her father. When Rob Tibbetts got remarried, Mollie was his "best man" in the ceremony. Her two brothers, Jake and Scott Tibbetts, played leading roles in the community search for her and in honoring her memory afterward. Her mother, Laura Calderwood, said she remembers Mollie through acts of kindness made in her everyday life. For example, when she passed a person in need on the sidewalk who asked for help, she handed him the $10 in her pocket. “He said 'thank you' and he had a tear running down his face, and I thought of her,” Calderwood told the Register. After Tibbetts' body was found and the investigation into Bahena Rivera began, family members asked for people to not politicize her death. Her father, Rob Tibbetts, wrote a column in response to politicians he said were using her death to advance immigration measures that she "vehemently opposed." “We want Mollie to die with dignity,” he said.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera:

Prosecutors say Cristhian Bahena Rivera, now 26, is an immigrant from El Guayabillo, a town of about 400 people, in Guerrero, Mexico. Rivera’s Facebook page said he attended “Preparatoria 35,” a college in Guerrero. He, however, has many relatives in the Poweshiek County area. He spent the four years before Tibbetts' death working as a farmhand at Yarrabee Farms in rural Poweshiek County. He gained employment there through a former girlfriend and worked on day-to-day operations with the cows.

He had no prior criminal record. After his arrest, managers at the farm said he had provided them a false name and lived in a trailer on the farm. Bahena Rivera's arrest, and undocumented status, drew national outrage, including from then-President Donald Trump, who made multiple references to the case in calling for more restrictive immigration policies.

Chad and Jennifer Frese, Bahena Rivera's attorneys: 

Bahena Rivera is represented by the husband-wife team of Chad and Jennifer Frese of Marshaltown. Both Freses are former prosecutors who now do criminal defense work, among other types of law. They declined to comment to the Des Moines Register leading up to the trial, citing trial preparations, but in 2019, Chad Frese told the Register he's known members of Bahena Rivera's family for more than two decades, representing some in court and meeting others at church or around the community. After his arrest, Bahena Rivera's family approached the Freses to represent him, pooling their money to pay for his defense. Jennifer Frese told the Register later that was the tipping point for her in deciding to take the case.

"Every one of them has said, 'We just want this to be a fair proceeding,'" she said. "'And if the jury says he did it and he did it, then he has to pay the price. We can’t believe he did it, but if he did, then he has what’s coming to him.'"

Bart Klaver and Scott Brown, the prosecutors:

The case is being prosecuted by Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver and Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown. Klaver is a former assistant county attorney who was appointed Poweshiek County attorney in March 2018, a few months before Tibbetts disappeared. 

Brown, the assistant attorney general, is a trial specialist who assists local prosecutors in bringing challenging or complex criminal cases. Other cases in which he is involved include the murder prosecutions against two men accused of killing two prison employees in March during an escape attempt at Anamosa State Penitentiary; and the kidnapping and murder prosecution against former Simpson College professor Gowun Park.

Joel D. Yates, the judge:

Because of the pretrial publicity, the trial was moved several times, eventually landing at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport. Judge Joel D. Yates will preside.

Yates, of Sigourney, has been assigned to the case from the beginning. He has served on the bench since 2007 and is a 1994 graduate of the Drake University School of Law. 

Iowa district judges serve six-year terms and must be retained by voters after each term. Nearly all judges are retained, including Yates, who was retained in 2010 and 2016. The Iowa State Bar Association surveys attorneys to evaluate judges before their retention elections, and, in 2016, found that 89% of attorneys surveyed who practiced before Yates recommended he be retained. Bar Association records show Yates received high marks from attorneys for punctuality and for treating people equally without regard to race or gender. His lowest marks came in courtesy and patience, where he received a score of 3.89 out of 5; and temperament and demeanor, where he received a 3.91.  Des Moines attorney Alfredo Parrish, who has tried a number of high-profile cases around the state, had high praise for Yates, saying he "is probably one of the best judges, in my opinion, in Iowa." "He will be well prepared, he treats the lawyers very well, doesn’t play favorites, will be up to date on the law," Parrish said. "He’s a wonderful judge.""

The entire story can be read at:
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;
FINAL, FINAL WORD: "Since its inception, the Innocence Project has pushed the criminal legal system to confront and correct the laws and policies that cause and contribute to wrongful convictions.   They never shied away from the hard cases — the ones involving eyewitness identifications, confessions, and bite marks. Instead, in the course of presenting scientific evidence of innocence, they’ve exposed the unreliability of evidence that was, for centuries, deemed untouchable." So true!
Christina Swarns: Executive Director: The Innocence Project;