Defense calls new witnesses in Mollie Tibbetts case, calls for new trial
Request: testimonies support Bahena Rivera’s testimony
Cristhian Bahena Rivera listens to court proceedings on May 25 during his trial at the Scott County Courthouse. Iowa. Bahena Rivera was on trial after being charged with first degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts in July 2018 (Pool Photo / Kelsey Kremer / Des Moines Register)
Citing information that began to come to light before their client was convicted on May 28 of the murder of former University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, defense attorneys say new witnesses may support the claims. allegations that sex traffickers were involved in the murder and are calling for a new trial.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 26, is due to be sentenced on Thursday for the first degree murder conviction. A jury found he killed the 20-year-old college student in July 2018 while jogging in Brooklyn, Iowa.
At trial, prosecutors presented home surveillance video showing a Chevrolet Malibu attributed to Bahena Rivera driving alongside Tibbetts as she jogged that night. Police recounted how he told them during questioning that he approached her, but could not remember what happened next. His DNA was found in the trunk of his car and he led authorities to a cornfield where his body was found.
At trial, however, Bahena Rivera took a stand in her own defense. In a surprising twist, he testified that he was kidnapped by two masked men who forced him to go to where Tibbetts was jogging. One of them killed her, he said, and put her body in the trunk of the Malibu.
A prosecutor argued that Bahena Rivera’s story was “a figment of her imagination.” The jury deliberated seven hours over two days before convicting Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, of the murder.
In the new court case, defense attorneys Jennifer and Chad Frese say there are witnesses who can support Bahena Rivera’s version of events – which others were responsible for.
The motion claims that two different people who do not know each other told law enforcement in two different cities that the same person – who is not named in the motion – was involved in the murder.
“This evidence would certainly have made a difference in the verdict. The accused chose to testify and spoke about two people involved in the kidnapping and murder of Mollie Tibbetts, ”states the defense motion. “DNA from the accused’s trunk identified other people who contributed to the blood mixture. This also helps to explain the relative scarcity of blood in the trunk of the accused. While all of the elements of the account may not fit perfectly with the defendant’s account of events, there is sufficient evidence to question whether the state could have proven its case beyond a reasonable doubt had this information been known. and presented to a jury. . “
The motion tells the stories of two people who are not named in the document.
The first was revealed on May 26 – the same day the defense rested, but before the jury returned their verdict. According to the petition, an inmate who had seen television coverage of the case approached a prison chaplain to tell him that he had previously shared a cell with another inmate who had spoken about the case.
This second detainee – called Detainee 2 in court documents – explained “that he and another person whom he identified by name, resided in a” trap house “belonging to a man of about 50 years involved in trafficking. sexual. Inmate 2 discussed his relationship with this man of around 50 and then said that on one occasion he visited a second ‘trap house’ owned by the man. Inmate 2 then informed inmate that at the second trap he and the second person saw Mollie Tibbetts tied up and gagged.
The motion claims that the 50-year-old “made a plan for them to stab Mollie Tibbetts and dump her body near a Hispanic man to make it appear that the Hispanic man committed the crime.”
In a separate episode, the motion says, another person told the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office of an encounter with a man who had brandished a gun at the individual. The person told authorities that the shooter said “” the Mexican should not be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbett because I raped and killed her.
Authorities said the person was “very emotional” and “probably under the influence.” However, defense attorneys said this person named the same person as the inmate responsible for Tibbetts’ murder.
Although the defense petition named one of the new potential witnesses, a separate petition in the same case calls for a prisoner at Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility named Arne Maki to be brought to justice.
A judge granted the request, ordering Maki to be transported to a hearing on Thursday, the same day as sentencing. Court records show that a man named Arne Maki from Keokuk County reached a plea deal in a domestic violence case in October 2020 and was sentenced to two years in prison.