Bahena Rivera, 26, is charged with the murder of Tibbetts, 20, who was found dead almost three years ago after escaping. He did not plead guilty.
The trial is expected to continue on Thursday to close the arguments.
Bahena Rivera originally confessed to law enforcement that he killed Tibbetts in a violent rage after approaching her while on the run. Tibbetts’ blood was later found in Bahena Rivera’s car.
When Bahena Rivera described the night of July 18, 2019 through an interpreter at the booth, he told a completely different story. He claimed he was showering when two unidentified men broke into his trailer and asked for his help. One had a knife and the other had a weapon, he said.
He testified that they had forced themselves into his black Chevy Malibu and told him to head towards town. At the time he said they had come across a young woman who he now knows is Tibbetts.
Bahena Rivera testified to stop while the man with the knife got out of the car. When the men left, he said he had found Tibbett’s body in the trunk of the car.
Prosecutors asked why the men sought his help, which Bahena Rivera said he did not know. They asked why he confessed instead of telling the police that two other men had made him do it and he said he was afraid for his daughter and ex-girlfriend and he thought it would help him to tell investigators what they wanted to hear.
“You stabbed Mollie Tibbetts, didn’t you?” District Attorney Scott Brown said.
“No,” said Bahena Rivera.
The defendant said he fought with Tibbetts in confession
Prosecutors said it was Bahena Rivera who followed Tibbetts, stabbed her, put her in the trunk of his car and hid her body.
“When you put this evidence together, there can be no other conclusion than that the defendant killed Mollie Tibbetts,” Poweshiek County’s attorney Bart Klaver said at the start of the trial.
In the opening speech, the prosecutor’s case relied on Bahena Rivera’s unique vehicle accessory and his admission to investigate, much of which was previously included in an affidavit of arrest. The home surveillance video from the night of July 18, 2018 showed the silhouette of a woman running as well as repeated sightings of a black Chevy Malibu with non-standard rims, chrome door handles and chrome-plated mirrors, Klaver said. An investigator later spotted a similar vehicle and interviewed the driver identified as Bahena Rivera, Klaver said.
In a follow-up interview with a Spanish-speaking Iowa city police officer on Aug. 20, Rivera admitted he was the only one who drove that vehicle, the prosecutor said. After initially denying knowing anything about Tibbetts, he admitted he saw her the night she disappeared, admitted that he found her attractive and said he circled back for a second look, Klaver told the jury .
The next morning, Rivera and investigators went to a cornfield in rural Poweshiek County, where he allegedly admitted following Tibbetts and jogging next to her. She had threatened to call the police and Rivera admitted he got angry and fought with her, Klaver told the court.
“The next thing he remembered” was when he drove and found Tibbetts in his trunk, Klaver said. Rivera allegedly admitted that he took her bloody body out of the trunk, carried her into a field, and, according to Klaver, placed corn stalks over her body.
Her body was found in that grain field wearing the same brightly colored running shoes as when jogging, prosecutors said. The doctor found that Tibbetts had been stabbed seven to twelve times. Blood that matched her DNA was also found in the trunk of the vehicle, Klaver said.
The disappearance of Tibbetts, a student at the University of Iowa, sparked an extensive search of the area that drew national attention.
Tibbetts was studying psychology and wanted to do a PhD and write books, her father said.
CNN’s Eric Levenson and Carma Hassan contributed to this report.