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A prosecutor who helped convict Cristhian Bahena Rivera for the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts said there was “no evidence” to support the defense team’s recent claims that Bahena Rivera was framed by the college student’s real killers.
“No evidence supports it. None. Zero,” Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown said in a court hearing Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
Bahena Rivera’s defense team filed a motion last week, obtained by Oxygen.com, requesting a new trial after two witnesses came forward to implicate another suspect with ties to sex trafficking in Tibbetts’ slaying.
The defense has also requested the court compel law enforcement agencies to allow them to review evidence in a sex trafficking investigation and the recent disappearance of 11-year-old Xavior Harrelson, who vanished not far from where Tibbetts had been abducted.
Bahena Rivera’s defense attorneys believe the investigations could be linked to Tibbett’s case.
“There’s something rotten within this area and they don’t want to provide us any information,” defense attorney Chad Frese said.
According to the defense motion, two separate witnesses came forward on May 26, after Bahena Rivera's defense team had already rested its case, suggesting a 21-year-old suspect had helped kill Tibbetts.
In one instance, a witness in an Iowa correctional facility told a prison chaplin that while he was staying in a county jail he had spoken with another inmate, who confessed to seeing Tibbetts bound and gagged in a "trap house" and later killing her along with another man. The inmate allegedly said that the pair had then tried to frame a Hispanic male for the killing.
A separate witness also came forward to say that same 21-year-old inmate had pointed a gun to his own head at one point and said “that Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbetts because I raped her and killed her.”
The defense team has argued that prosecutors failed to disclose information about an investigation into a man accused of operating a sex trafficking “trap house” in New Sharon, Iowa, less than 30 miles from where Tibbetts disappeared, who is now in prison on a gun charge, ABC News reports.
According to the defense, the man had once been the live-in boyfriend of Harrelson’s mother, the boy who vanished in May, and could have ties to Tibbett’s case.
“I think that it would be preposterous to believe that Cristian Bahena and Mollie Tibbetts’ names did not come up in the Xavior Harrelson investigation,” defense attorney Jennifer Frese said, according to local station KCCI. “We have two people that went missing in incredibly small towns, and all we are asking is that Mr. Bahena be given a fair shot.”
However, prosecutors have resisted providing information about on-going sex trafficking investigations to the defense, arguing that it would be nothing more than a “fishing expedition.”
"If they want to go and knock themselves out trying to find out all of this confusing information that has been presented to the court, go right ahead and do that," Brown said in court, according to ABC News. "But there is nothing in the rules, nothing in the case law that compels the state to chase its tail because they're asking us to do it."
Brown noted that Bahena Rivera had already been convicted of Tibbetts’ murder and said the information provided by the two new witnesses in the case is inconsistent with the evidence and Bahena’s Rivera’s own testimony during the trial.
Bahena Rivera took the stand and told jurors that he had been abducted from his home the day Tibbetts disappeared by two masked men and was forced to drive around until they spotted Tibbetts out jogging. He said one of the men got out of the car and stabbed Tibbetts before placing her in the trunk of his car and forcing him to drive to a cornfield before the men took off on foot.
Bahena Rivera admitted to leaving Tibbetts’ body in the cornfield and later led investigators to her body, but denied killing her.
In his earlier statements to investigators, prosecutors said in a separate motion obtained by Oxygen.com that Bahena Rivera initially confessed to confronting Tibbetts along the roadway, getting angry after she rebuked his advances and attacking her.
Neither account made reference to a secondary location or other details provided by the new witnesses.
Brown called it “unconscionable” for Bahena Rivera’s defense attorneys to reveal information related to the ongoing investigation into Harrelson’s disappearance in a public forum.
Judge Joel Yates is expected to decide whether to compel law enforcement agencies to provide the defense with the investigative material by the end of the week.
A separate hearing to discuss the request for a new trial is slated for July 27.
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