Suspect in Mollie Tibbetts slaying pleads not guilty

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 24, responds to a question from magistrate judge Diane Crooklyn-Johnson as he makes his initial appearance on a charge of first-degree murder during at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa, on Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2018. Rivera is accused of killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MONTEZUMA, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) The man accused of abducting and killing 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

24-year-old Cristhian Bahena Rivera entered his plea at a formal arraignment hearing on Wednesday. He also waived his right to a speedy trial.

His trial is set for April 16, 2019.

Police say Bahena Rivera confessed to killing Tibbetts and dumping her body in a cornfield. Bahena Rivera told authorities he "blacked out" before realizing he had killed Tibbetts. Bahena Rivera's attorney, Chad Frese, declined to reveal if he planned to try to argue loss of memory as part if Rivera's defense.

Tibbetts' July 18 disappearance set off a massive search involving state and federal authorities. She was found over a month later on Aug. 21 when Bahena Rivera led authorities to her body.

Bahena Rivera, an immigrant who entered the country illegally, worked at a nearby dairy farm under a fake name. His attorney says he's not concerned about his legal status.

"Immigration really has nothing to do with this case and we are not going to let that become an issue with this case," Frese said. "Our focus is Cristhian's charge that he's facing the death of this woman and whether or not he's an illegal or an legal immigrant really has nothing to do with the facts of this case."

Bahena Rivera is being held on $5 million cash-only bond. If convicted of first-degree murder, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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