A farm worker was sentenced Monday to life without parole in the 2018 fatal stabbing of a student from Iowa, a crime Donald J. Trump seized on as president when he strengthened his crackdown on illegal immigration.
The farm worker, Cristhian Bahena Rivera, was convicted in May of the kidnapping and murder of Mollie Tibbetts, 20, a University of Iowa student who disappeared after going for a run.
It took more than a month for Mr. Bahena Rivera to lead investigators to Ms. Tibbetts’ body, which was hidden in a cornfield outside of Brooklyn, Iowa, her hometown.
The arrest of Mr. Bahena Rivera, who had been described by authorities as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, soon caught the attention of Mr. Trump. The president tried to use the matter to his political advantage during the 2018 midterm elections and in his efforts to build a border wall.
Mr. Bahena Rivera, 27, was expressionless as a case worker at the attorney general’s office read a victim statement written by Ms. Tibbetts’ mother, Laura Calderwood, in a district court in Montezuma, Iowa, on Monday.
Ms Calderwood said in the statement that her daughter had so much to look forward to until the evening of July 18, 2018.
“You chose to end that life in a violent and sadistic way,” Mrs. Calderwood said. “Who could harm such a beautiful, vivacious young woman so full of life and promise?”
Ms. Calderwood said she would never recover from her daughter’s murder and that she should tell Ms. Tibbetts’ grandmother and other relatives that her body had been found.
Because of Mr. Bahena Rivera’s actions, she said, Mrs. Tibbetts’ boyfriend would never be able to give her the engagement ring he had gotten for her.
“Your actions will never allow Mollie’s father, Rob, to walk his only daughter down the aisle,” Mrs. Calderwood said. “Because of your actions, Mr. Rivera, I will never see my daughter become a mother.”
Mr Bahena Rivera, who plans to appeal his conviction, did not speak during the sentencing. His lawyers also declined to comment.
In Iowa, a conviction for first degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence. Lawyers for Mr Bahena Rivera tried unsuccessfully to claim that someone else had committed the murder.
During his trial, The Des Moines Register reported, Mr. Bahena Rivera testified that two armed and masked men confronted him at his home and ordered him to drive them to Brooklyn, where one of them murdered Mrs. Tibbetts, leaving her body in his suitcase and ordered him to drive to a cornfield.
Judge Joel D. Yates of the Eighth Judicial District dismissed that defense during sentencing.
“Mr Bahena Rivera, you and you alone have forever changed the lives of those who loved Mollie Tibbetts,” Judge Yates said.
The judge also ordered Mr Bahena Rivera to repay $150,000 to Mrs Tibbetts’ family and refused him bail while appealing his conviction.
Ms. Tibbetts, a psychology student and summer camp counselor, grew up in San Francisco and Brooklyn, a small town between Des Moines and Cedar Rapids.
According to investigators, blood matching her DNA was found in the trunk of Mr. Bahena Rivera’s car, which was captured on a security camera near where Ms. Tibbetts had run.
Scott D. Brown, a special assistant attorney general, called the evidence against Mr. Bahena Rivera “overwhelming” and said it supported a life sentence.
“Based on the facts and circumstances of this case,” said Mr. Brown, “it is very well deserved.”