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DAY 7: Defense attorney claims Rivera told police what they wanted to hear, Tibbetts’ boyfriend testifies again

Cristhian Bahena Rivera

DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWWL) -- After 4 days of the prosecution laying its case against Cristhian Bahena Rivera, defense attorneys opened Tuesday with question of if law enforcement coerced a confession.

Rivera faces a first degree murder charge in the killing of Mollie Tibbetts, a 20 year-old University of Iowa student who captured the nation's attention in July 2018 when she disappeared.

Jennifer Frese told the jury, in her opening remarks, that their "heart should break for Mollie" and her family. However, Frese charged them with focusing on bringing justice for Mollie and also for Rivera, who has pleaded not guilty.

Despite not presenting any direct testimony to support it yet, Frese questioned, in her opening, if authorities could have coerced Rivera into giving some of the details that he did. She said they "confronted" him with evidence, including home security footage showing his vehicle.

“And the confrontation continued until it was put in my client's head, perhaps he blacked out," she said.

In the morning, testimony from the family of Rivera drew the most attention in court. His aunt by marriage and the mother of his daughter both taking the stand, claiming he didn't have a history of violence. They said Rivera was a supporting father who paid about $500 a month after he and his daughter's mother ended their relationship.

Rivera's aunt added that he was a positive influence among the family and that she wasn't allowed to see Rivera the night he was arrested despite waiting roughly 5 hours.

Things took a turn after the court broke for lunch with Mollie's boyfriend at the time of her murder, Dalton Jack, taking the stand.

"I wouldn't harm her or any innocent person," Jack said.

Jack, who testified last week for the prosecution, was subpoenaed by the defense for a second testimony. Chad Frese, Rivera's other attorney, asked point blank if Jack had anything to do with what happened to Mollie to which he responded "no." Jack contends he was in Dubuque the night that Mollie disappeared.

Frese also brought up phone records, showing texts with Mollie where Jack admitted to having a temper as well as a relationship with another woman at the same time he dated Mollie. Those phone records also showed Jack only tried to call his girlfriend once after she was reported missing.

"I don't know why I would only call her once," Jack said.

Throughout his testimony, Jack said he could not recall when asked about specific details in conversations that occurred through text messages and Snapchat. He did not dispute their accuracy though.

The defense has consistently attempted to sow doubt that Jack is innocent, asking the case's lead investigator about why he was cleared as a suspect.

Scott Brown, one of the prosecutors in the case, fired back in his cross-examination that Jack had not led investigators to Tibbetts body nor was he associated with a black, Chevy Malibu. Both details refer to evidence against Rivera.

Between the more emotionally charged interviews, the defense called two forensic experts, including Dr. Michael Spence, an independent DNA analyst, and a criminalist from the state forensics lab who examined fingerprints in this case. Their testimony focused on the evidence pulled from the trunk of Rivera's car where DNA was found that matched a DNA profile for Tibbetts.

Spence, who noted the state's report that showed other DNA in the trunk, believes the interpretation of the DNA evidence found in the trunk was "oversimplified." His testimony reflected that of Tara Scott, a state criminalist, who stated the week before that DNA from multiple sources were found but those samples were too weak or contaminated to draw solid conclusions.

It's not clear what other witnesses the defense plans to call, but they did subpoena the woman that Jack cheated on Mollie with. Court resumes at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

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