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The man convicted of killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts has requested a new trial after claiming the real killer confessed to multiple witnesses about the crime.
Attorneys for Cristhian Bahena Rivera filed a motion to cast aside the jury’s guilty verdict in the case and secure a new trial, just days before he is slated to be sentenced for the murder, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com.
His attorneys, husband and wife duo Chad and Jennifer Frese, argue in the motion that two separate witnesses came forward hours apart on May 26 to name another suspect in the slaying, after the defense team had already rested their case.
A jury found Bahena Rivera guilty two days later, ABC News reports.
According to the motion, a witness in an Iowa correctional facility told a prison chaplin after seeing coverage of the trial in the media that he could corroborate Bahena Rivera’s claim that two masked men had kidnapped him and forced him to help in the slaying.
The witness told prison officials that while staying at a county jail near Poweshiek County another inmate, referred to as “inmate 2” in the court documents, told him he had seen Tibbetts bound and gagged in what he referred to as a “trap house,” which had been used in sex trafficking.
The inmate and another individual had allegedly been staying at another trap house that was owned by a 50-year-old man involved in the sex trade industry when they went to the second location and saw Tibbetts, according to court documents.
The inmate allegedly told the witness that the intense media attention surrounding the case ultimately spooked the 50-year-old owner of the house who “devised a plan for them to stab Mollie Tibbetts and dump her body near a Hispanic male in order to make it appear that the Hispanic male committed the crime.”
The witness initially thought “inmate 2” was “exaggerating” about his involvement in the death until he heard Bahena Rivera’s testimony on the stand.
A separate witness also came forward the same day to point suspicion on “inmate 2,” according to the motion. This witness told police they had been in car with “inmate 2” when he pointed a gun to his head at said “that Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbetts because I raped her and killed her,” The Des Moines Register reports.
Investigators said the witness was “very emotional” and “likely under the influence” and dismissed the claims, but Bahena Rivera’s defense team noted that both witnesses had named the same suspect in the case.
The two witnesses who came forward to provide the information did not know each other, the defense attorneys said.
The Freses went on to argue that had jurors been allowed to hear the new evidence, it certainly” would have made a difference in the verdict.
“While perhaps not every bit of the account fits neatly into the defendant’s account of the events, enough of the facts fit to certainly question whether the state would have been able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt had this information been known and presented to the jury,” they wrote in the motion.
During his trial, Bahena Rivera took the stand to tell jurors that two men broke into his home near Brooklyn, Iowa—where Tibbetts disappeared in July 2018—and forced him to drive around until they spotted Tibbetts jogging along the road, according to The Register.
Bahena Rivera said one of the men got out of the car and stabbed Tibbetts before placing her body in his car and making him drive to a cornfield, ABC News reports.
Bahena Rivera told jurors he later disposed of he 20-year-old’s body in a cornfield, but had not killed her.
Before disappearing, he said the two men had threatened to harm his girlfriend and child if he went to authorities.
Prosecutor Scott Brown dismissed his account during his closing arguments as a “figment of his imagination.”
During the trial, prosecutors presented the jurors with surveillance video that showed a Chevrolet Malibu—matching the description of Bahena Rivera’s vehicle—driving by Tibbetts the night she disappeared as she jogged down the road, according to The Cedar Rapids Gazette. Her DNA was also later found in the trunk of his car and Bahena Rivera led authorities to her body.
Lynn Hicks, chief of staff for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, told Oxygen.com the office plans to file a response to the motion later Wednesday.
Bahena Rivera is slated to be sentenced for first-degree murder Thursday.
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