Cristhian Bahena Rivera was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 2018 killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.
Judge Joel D. Yates told Bahena Rivera, “You, and you alone, forever changed the lives of those who loved Mollie Tibbetts. And for that, you and you alone will receive the following sentence.”
Bahena Rivera, wearing a mask and headphones, was stoic as Yates sentenced him to a “lifetime sentence with no eligibility for parole.”
Bahena Rivera, 27, was sentenced to the maximum penalty under the law in a high-profile case that also became politicized, in part because of the defendant’s status as an undocumented immigrant.
Earlier this month, Yates rejected a request for a new trial for Bahena Rivera, who was convicted May 28 of first-degree murder in the death of 20-year-old Tibbetts.
Yates dismissed Bahena Rivera’s claim that newly discovered evidence implicated other alleged suspects in Tibbetts’ slaying.
In a 13-page decision, Yates said the evidence wasn’t new nor would it change the outcome of the trial. A jury deliberated for seven hours over two days before convicting Bahena Rivera.
Yates also rejected claims by Bahena Rivera’s lawyers that prosecutors suppressed evidence.
At trail, Bahena Rivera took the witness stand and claimed two masked men were responsible for the murder but forced him to participate at gunpoint.
Tibbetts’ homicide became a hot-button political issue.
Bahena Rivera, a farmhand, led investigators to Tibbetts’ body in a Brooklyn, Iowa, cornfield nearly one month after she went jogging July 18, 2018, and vanished.
She had been stabbed between seven and 12 times in the chest, neck and skull, according to the prosecution.
The case against Rivera drew national attention when then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans argued the tragedy was made possible by weak immigration laws.
Tibbetts’ family pushed back against that narrative and pleaded with politicians not to invoke her name to advance an anti-immigration agenda.
“Sadly, others have ignored our request. They have instead chosen to callously distort and corrupt Mollie’s tragic death to advance a cause she vehemently opposed. I encourage the debate on immigration; there is great merit in its reasonable outcome,” her father, Rob Tibbetts, wrote in the Des Moines Register.
“But do not appropriate Mollie’s soul in advancing views she believed were profoundly racist.”
Antonio Planas is a breaking news reporter for NBC News Digital.