The man accused of killing Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in court Wednesday.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, entered his plea through a translator. His attorney Chad Frese told the court that his client has a "limited understanding of English and limited education."
Tibbetts, 20, was a rising sophomore at the University of Iowa when she went missing on July 18. Her case received nationwide attention with hundreds of tips pouring in from around the country. After an intense five weeks of searching, police found home surveillance footage of a car trailing Tibbetts while she was out for a run.
Soon after they arrested Bahena Rivera, who led law enforcement to a cornfield where they discovered Tibbetts' body. According to an arrest affidavit, the accused killer told police he remembered getting mad at Tibbetts' but blocked what happened next from his memory.
In the aftermath of Bahena Rivera's arrest, his undocumented status became a political talking point for some law makers. At a West Virginia rally, President Donald Trump told the crowd that the country's immigration laws are a disgrace and said, “You heard about today with the illegal alien coming in very sadly from Mexico. And you saw what happened to that incredible beautiful young woman."
In an op-ed for the Des Moines Register, Ron Tibbetts, Mollie's father, rejected the political rhetoric, imploring those involved to, "turn against racism in all its ugly manifestations both subtle and overt. Let’s turn toward each other with all the compassion we gave Mollie."
Bahena Rivera's trial has been set to begin on April 16, 2019.