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MONTEZUMA (AP) — A police officer who obtained a confession from a suspect in the disappearance and death of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts said Wednesday that she made an honest mistake when she failed to read him his complete legal rights.

Officer Pamela Romero testified that she tried to read Cristhian Bahena Rivera a Miranda warning during the Aug. 20, 2018, interrogation but didn’t realize until later that she left one part out, failing to tell him that his statements could be used against him in court. Romero said her failure was a mistake and not an attempt to keep him talking without a lawyer.

After several more hours of questioning, Rivera led officers to a cornfield where they discovered Tibbetts’ body underneath leaves and stalks. Tibbetts had disappeared a month earlier while out for a run in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, sparking a massive search.

After the discovery of the body, Romero said that she read Rivera his rights again and this time they were complete. She said that he provided “substantial information” about how Tibbetts was killed and left in the field at that point.

Romero testified during a daylong hearing on a request by Rivera’s lawyers to suppress statements he made during the interrogation and evidence related to the body.

The hearing, which will continue Thursday, will be critical in determining what evidence can be used against Rivera at his murder trial, which is scheduled for February. Judge Joel Yates is hearing testimony, though it was not immediately known when he was expected to rule on the matter.

Rivera’s lawyers say investigators swept into Rivera’s workplace, coerced him into giving an interview, suggested he didn’t need a lawyer, and continued questioning him for 11 hours even after he was falling asleep at times.

Investigators testified that Rivera consented to the interview and was free to leave for the first six hours. At that point, they obtained an immigration detainer to keep him in custody after learning blood that turned out to be Tibbetts’ was found in the trunk of his vehicle. Rivera, a Mexican national who had been living illegally in the U.S., had given consent for that vehicle search, they said.

Romero said she kept a card detailing Miranda rights in a backpack that she used to read to suspects, but that she didn’t have it with her that night. Romero, then an officer with the Iowa City Police Department, had been asked to question Rivera since she’s a native Spanish speaker.

Prosecutors concede that Rivera’s statements for about five hours leading to the discovery of Tibbetts’ body are likely inadmissible due to the incomplete Miranda warning. But they say the body itself should be admitted as evidence, arguing that it inevitably would have been discovered.

Agent Trent Vileta of the Division of Criminal Investigation, who oversaw the search for Tibbetts, testified that investigators were still adding locations to search for Tibbetts when they developed Rivera as a suspect. Those would have included the area where she was found, he said.

In addition, he said, area farmers were anxious that Tibbetts would be discovered in their fields and were on the lookout. “Nobody wanted to be the one to find her,” Vileta said.

Farmers, or searchers using drones and aircraft, would have spotted the fluorescent running shoes still on Tibbetts feet once the field’s crops were harvested in the fall, he testified.

Rivera’s lawyers tried to cast doubt on that claim, noting that the murder weapon used to stab Tibbetts to death, her cell phone and her FitBit device have not been discovered.

Investigators began to focus on Rivera after a homeowner’s surveillance video briefly captured a “dark figure running” that appeared to be Tibbetts, Vileta said. Further examination of the video showed a black Chevy Malibu with unusual markings that appeared to be circling the runner, he said.

Poweshiek County sheriff’s deputy Steve Kivi testified that he spotted Rivera driving that vehicle Aug. 16, 2018, and that he had a discussion with him outside his home. Then, Rivera calmly denied any involvement in Tibbetts’ disappearance and his demeanor “didn’t raise any red flags,” Kivi said.

On Aug. 20, investigators went to Rivera’s workplace to interview Rivera and to obtain DNA samples from him and other employees.

Rivera later admitted the Malibu on the video was his and that “he liked the way (Tibbetts) looked so he turned around to follow her,” Vileta said. Vileta obtained a search warrant for the vehicle, and crime lab technicians found what they believed to be blood in the trunk.

EARLIER STORY

MONTEZUMA — Investigators who led the search for missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts testified Wednesday they believe her body would have been discovered even without the suspect in her killing leading them to its location.

Their testimony came during a hearing on whether statements the suspect, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, made to police can be used at his upcoming trial for first-degree murder.

Tibbetts, 20, went missing after going out for a run on July 18, 2018, in her small hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. Her disappearance prompted a search involving local, state and federal law enforcement and hundreds of volunteers.

Rivera, a 25-year-old dairy farm laborer, allegedly implicated himself in Tibbetts’ disappearance during a police interview that began Aug. 20, 2018. The following morning, he led investigators to a cornfield where her body was found beneath leaves.

His lawyers have asked Judge Joel Yates to suppress statements from that interrogation and the discovery of the body because he had not been read his Miranda rights warning him his statements could be used against him. They have argued his alleged confession was involuntary and the evidence is tainted.

Prosecutors concede officers didn’t read Rivera his rights when he was interviewed. But they say Tibbetts’ body would have been discovered regardless and that Rivera’s comment should be admissible evidence under legal precedent.

Agent Trent Vileta of the Division of Criminal Investigation, who oversaw the search, testified investigators were still adding locations to search for Tibbetts when they developed Rivera as a suspect. Those would have included the area where she was found, he said.

In addition, he said, area farmers were anxious that Tibbetts would be discovered in their fields and were on the lookout.

“Nobody wanted to be the one to find her,” Vileta said.

Farmers, or searchers using drones and aircraft, would have spotted the fluorescent running shoes still on Tibbetts feet once the field’s crops were harvested in the fall, he testified.

Defense lawyer Chad Frese argued the body could have been moved or disrupted by animals or farmers and may never have been found.

Investigators began to focus on Rivera after a homeowner’s surveillance video briefly captured a “dark figure running” that appeared to be Tibbetts, Vileta said. Further examination of the video showed a black Chevy Malibu with unusual markings that appeared to be circling the runner, he said.

Poweshiek County sheriff’s deputy Steve Kivi testified he spotted Rivera driving that vehicle Aug. 16, 2018, and he had a discussion with him outside his home. Then, Rivera calmly denied any involvement in Tibbetts’ disappearance and his demeanor “didn’t raise any red flags,” Kivi said.

On Aug. 20, investigators went to Rivera’s workplace to interview him and his co-workers. Rivera went to the sheriff’s office to answer questions. He admitted the Malibu on the video was his and that “he liked the way (Tibbetts) looked so he turned around to follow her,” Vileta said.

Vileta obtained a search warrant for the vehicle, and crime lab technicians found what they believed to be blood in the trunk. At that point, agents decided to hold Rivera, a Mexican national who was living illegally in the United States, on an immigration detainer, he said.

If convicted, Rivera faces life in prison. His trial is scheduled for February.

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