The sentence was delivered on Monday in an Iowa courtroom, where Tibbetts’s family was also awaiting the judge’s decision. “I selected this particular sentence for you after considering the nature of the offense committed by you, the harm to the victim and the victim’s family, your need for rehabilitation and the necessity for protecting the community from further offenses by you and others,” Judge Joel Yates told Rivera.
During the investigation, Rivera admitted to killing Tibbetts, a 20-year-old college student who went missing in July 2018, when she was jogging one evening in Brooklyn, Iowa. Rivera, a worker at a nearby dairy farm, told authorities that he spotted Tibbetts on her run and began jogging next to her. Rivera said he became angry when Tibbetts threatened to call the police if he didn’t stop following her and fought with her. He said that it goes black after that—Rivera said the next thing he remembers is driving away and realizing that Tibbetts’s body was in the trunk. He said he then dumped the bloody body in a corn field; he later led investigators to the exact spot, where they found Tibbetts’s corpse punctured with fatal stab wounds.
Originally, Rivera had claimed that two masked men armed with a knife and a gun had broken into his trailer and forced him to drive them to where Tibbetts was running, and that he’d stayed in the vehicle while they killed her loaded her body into the car. He changed his story during August 2018 questioning.
At the time, Donald Trump seized on Tibbetts’s tragic death to fuel his anti-immigrant agenda, using Rivera—an undocumented immigrant from Mexico—as an example of the supposed danger in allowing Latino immigrants into the country. In an op-ed, Donald Trump Jr., wrote that Tibbetts had been murdered “by an illegal alien and her murder would never have happened if we policed our southern border properly.”
Tibbetts’s parents refused to lend any credence to Republicans’ narrative around their daughters’ killing, with her father telling reporters that Tibbetts would have found it “profoundly racist.”
“At the outset, politicians and pundits used Mollie’s death to promote various political agendas. We appealed to them and they graciously stopped. For that, we are grateful,” Tibbetts’s father wrote in the Des Moines Register. “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.”
During Monday’s sentencing, Tibbett’s mother, Laura Calderwood, read a victim impact statement making mention of Rivera’s own daughter, Paulina:
“Because of your act, Mr. Rivera, I will never get to see my daughter become a mother,” Calderwood said. “I do hope, one day, Paulina has an opportunity to become a mother. But how will she ever explain to her children who their grandfather is? This is the legacy you left behind for your only child, Mr. Rivera. I don’t know whose situation is worse.”