Cristhian Rivera was arraigned Wednesday on a murder charge in Mollie Tibbetts' death as the judge set an April trial date

By Adam Carlson
September 19, 2018 06:14 PM
Mollie Tibbetts

The man accused of murdering Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts pleaded not guilty on Wednesday in her death and waived his right to a speedy trial, setting the stage for an April trial, PEOPLE confirms.

Cristhian Rivera, 24, appeared briefly in the Poweshiek County Courthouse for his arraignment on a first-degree murder charge in Tibbetts’ slaying. The 20-year-old University of Iowa sophomore was found dead in an area cornfield last month, more than four weeks after vanishing while out on her usual evening jog around her hometown of Brooklyn.

Authorities have said Rivera allegedly led them to Tibbetts’ remains in August after he was linked to her disappearance when a car he drove was seen on video near where she was running, according to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained by PEOPLE.

Rivera admitted that he crossed paths with Tibbetts while she was jogging and began to follow her, at which point she threatened to call the police — panicking and angering Rivera — the warrant affidavit states.

Though Rivera allegedly said he “blocked” what happened next, he found Tibbetts’ lifeless body in his car’s trunk and then hid it in a field for weeks until being questioned by investigators.

RELATED: Mollie Tibbetts’ Accused Killer Describes Finding Her Body in Trunk After Her Jog, Authorities Say

Preliminary autopsy findings showed Tibbetts died from “blunt force injuries,” such as cuts or stab wounds, but additional details in the homicide remain unclear.

A motive has not been confirmed, but authorities have said Rivera “seemed to be drawn to her [Tibbetts] on that particular day and chose to abduct her.”

Cristhian Rivera (center)
Charlie Neibergall/AP/Shutterstock

Near the end of Rivera’s brief arraignment on Wednesday, he waived his right to a trial within 90 days of formal charges being filed. The judge set a trial date for April 16.

Rivera did not address the court beyond answering the judge with yes or no.

RELATED VIDEO: Man Accused in Murder of Mollie Tibbetts Appears in Court

A message left with Rivera’s attorney was not immediately returned on Wednesday. Allan Richards, an attorney who previously represented him immediately following his arrest, reiterated that Rivera is presumed innocent and has no prior criminal record.

“Whether or not there was something that happened that was very outrageous, that is a different matter,” Richards told PEOPLE. “I have seen no evidence on that at no point.”

RELATED: Missing University of Iowa Student Mollie Tibbetts Found Dead — a Timeline of Events

A woman who answered the phone at the Poweshiek County Attorney’s Office said they were not commenting.

As hundreds of mourners gathered at a funeral for Tibbetts in late August, her father described her not as a victim but as his “hero.”

“We’re at the end of a long ordeal, but now we need to turn toward life,” he said. “We need to heal — this community needs to heal, our family needs to heal, but the problem with that is the person best equipped to help us through this is Mollie. So, let’s try to do what Mollie would do. Let’s say what Mollie would say. Let’s start with baby steps.”

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