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Judge Delays Sentencing In Mollie Tibbetts Murder Case After Defense’s Bombshell Claim

Christhian Bahena Rivera's attorneys say new witnesses have come forward corroborating his story that Mollie Tibbetts was killed by someone else, but prosecutors say the facts don't add up.

By Jill Sederstrom
Judge Delays Sentencing In Mollie Tibbetts Murder Case

The sentencing for the man convicted of killing Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts has been delayed after his attorneys filed a motion saying they have two new witnesses who point to a different killer.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera was expected to be sentenced Thursday to life in prison under the state’s sentencing guidelines, but Judge Joel Yates opted to delay the sentencing hearing in light of the defense team’s explosive new claims, according to The Associated Press.

A hearing to discuss the defense team’s request that prosecutors release information about sex trafficking activity in Iowa is now slated to be held Thursday instead, after the defense team filed a motion obtained by Oxygen.com to dismiss the verdict against Bahena Rivera.

According to the defense motion, just two days before a jury would find Bahena Rivera guilty of murder, two witnesses came forward to report her death may have been the result of sex trafficking.

In their own response filed Wednesday, prosecutors have denied that the witnesses’ information would have impacted the outcome of the trial, saying the information that they provided was “wholly different” from Bahena Rivera’s own testimony and is “completed unsupported by other evidence learned in the investigation.”

According to the motion filed by the defense, two separate witnesses came forward on May 26 after the defense team had already rested its case that pointed to a different killer and suggested Bahena Rivera may have been framed.

In one instance, a witness in an Iowa correctional facility told a prison chaplin after seeing coverage of the trial in the media that, during a stay in a county jail, he had spoken with another inmate, referred to as “inmate 2” in court documents, who confessed to being involved in the 20-year-old’s murder.

According to the witness, “inmate 2” told him he had seen Tibbetts bound and gagged in what he had referred to as a “trap house” used for sex trafficking.

"Inmate 2" 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 had been planning to use Tibbetts for sex trafficking and “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.”

Cristhian Bahena Rivera Ap

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 defense team has argued that the information provided by the two witnesses would have “certainly” impacted 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.

However, in the response filed Wednesday by the Iowa Attorney General’s Office and the Poweshiek County Attorney, prosecutors argue that the witness accounts directly contradict Bahena Rivera’s own testimony on the stand.

He told jurors that he had been abducted from his home by two men, who forced him to drive around until they spotted Tibbetts jogging along the road.

He claimed that one of the men got out of the car and stabbed Tibbetts before placing her in the trunk of Bahena Rivera’s vehicle—where investigators later found her blood—and then forced him to drive to a cornfield where he disposed of the body and they fled on foot.

According to prosecutors, the only aspects that are consistent between Bahena Rivera’s account and the details set forward in the new claims are that Tibbetts was murdered.

“In all other respects, the information provided by (the witnesses) is completely unsupported by other evidence learned in the investigation and offered at trial and is completely opposed to the testimony provided by the defendant,” they wrote in the motion obtained by Oxygen.com.

Prosecutors point out that Bahena Rivera told the jury he encountered Tibbetts while she was jogging the day she disappeared and the two assailants who he said killed her stabbed her not long after they encountered the college student. He never mentioned anything about a secondary location and was clearly aware of where Tibbetts body had been discarded because he later led investigators to that exact location, suggesting his own involvement, prosecutors said.

If the new witness account was correct, prosecutors said the killer would have had “no reason to hide Mollie’s body if they had a plan to blame another individual.”

They also pointed to surveillance footage recovered by investigators that showed Tibbetts running along a Brooklyn, Iowa street on July 18, 2018—the day she disappeared—wearing the same clothes she had on when her body was discovered. A vehicle matching the one driven by Bahena Rivera was also seen “multiple times” in the area where Tibbetts had been jogging.

According to prosecutors, there was no evidence on Tibbetts’ body that she had been bound before her death, as the new witness claims.

“The overwhelming amount of evidence points to the guilt of the defendant,” prosecutors wrote.

In his statements to investigators, they said Bahena Rivera initially confessed to confronting Tibbetts along the roadway, getting angry after she rebuked his advances and attacking her.

“The defendant confessed to transporting Mollie to a corn field and hiding her under corn stalks,” they wrote. “Later, in the dark and without difficulty, the defendant led law enforcement to the location of Mollie Tibbetts’ body.”

Prosecutors also argued that Bahena Rivera’s defense attorneys had been made aware of the new witnesses’ statements before the jury handed down the verdict and opted not to delay the trial to investigate the claims.

“The State left it completely to the discretion of the defense as to whether or not they wanted law enforcement to pursue the lead provided by the investigators at the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility,” they wrote in the motion. “The defense informed the undersigned that the information was inconsistent with their client’s testimony indicating that it was not worth pursuing.”

Prosecutors allege that the defense “now regret the decision not the pursue the information” in light of the guilty verdict.

“The information they claim forms the basis for their new trial motions is not newly discovered,” they said.

The defense team has also asked Yates to order the state to release information about prior sex trafficking cases in the area after noting that multiple young people have disappeared under “troubling” circumstances.

Prosecutors, however, argued that they should not have to share the information because there is no evidence that Tibbetts had been a victim of sexual trafficking.

The latest motions are expected to be weighed in court during a series of new hearings on the case.