A judge is reviewing potential new evidence in the Mollie Tibbetts murder case after lawyers for the man convicted of killing her claim the college student was abducted as part of an Iowa sex trafficking ring and that a 21-year-old man had allegedly confessed to being her ‘real killer’.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 27, was scheduled to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Thursday after being found guilty in May over the 2018 stabbing death of the 20-year-old Iowa college student.
In a bombshell twist, the judge delayed sentencing and is now reviewing the defense’s request for more time and information that they believe will clear their client.
The defense have argued that a man allegedly confessed to two people that he helped kill Tibbetts after she was kidnapped and held at a house used for sex trafficking.
The judge will now decide if prosecutors have to share any information they have on a sex trafficking investigation in the region and a current missing person’s case that the defense believe relates to Tibbetts’ murder.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 27, was scheduled to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Thursday after being found guilty in May over the 2018 stabbing death of Mollie Tibbetts
The judge said he would issue a written ruling at a later date and hold a daylong hearing on June 27 on the defense’s request for a new trial.
Prosecutors say Bahena Rivera drove past Tibbetts while she was out for her daily run in Brooklyn and that he thought she was attractive, approached her and killed her after she threatened to call police.
They say he partially confessed during a lengthy interrogation a month later and led investigators to the cornfield where her body was found.
During his trial, Bahena Rivera claimed publicly for the first time that two masked men kidnapped him from his trailer and forced him to drive before they came upon Tibbetts on a rural road and one of them stabbed her. He said the men loaded her body into his trunk and instructed him to dispose of it in the cornfield.
The defense say two witnesses came forward independently of one another to partially support Bahena Rivera’s testimony after his high-profile trial.
They named one of the witnesses as Arne Maki, who is currently serving time in the Iowa Department of Corrections for domestic abuse. The defense say Maki told investigators that a 21-year-old fellow inmate with a history of violence against women claimed responsibility for killing Tibbetts.
Maki said the man told him while they were at a county jail that Tibbetts had been kidnapped and brought to a local ‘trap house’ used for sex trafficking before she was killed.
Defense lawyers argue that the information from the witnesses could support a link between Tibbetts’ death and the May disappearance of an 11-year-old boy from the area, Xavior Harrelson
The man allegedly told Maki that the house was owned by a 50-year-old who was running the trafficking ring and decided to have Tibbetts killed after the publicity surrounding her disappearance got too big.
The other witness that came forward was the man’s ex-girlfriend. Defense attorneys say she told investigators that her ex had admitted to killing Tibbetts.
The defense say Arne Maki, who is currently an inmate, told investigators that a 21-year-old fellow inmate with a history of violence against women claimed responsibility for killing Tibbetts
Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown argued on Thursday that information about the 21-year-old from two witnesses was inconsistent with Bahena Rivera’s own courtroom account of what happened.
Defense lawyers went on to argue that the information from the witnesses could support a link between Tibbetts’ death and the May disappearance of an 11-year-old boy from the area, Xavior Harrelson.
Xavior vanished from his trailer park on May 28 during closing arguments of the Bahena Rivera trial.
‘I think it would be preposterous to believe the Cristian Bahena and Mollie Tibbetts names did not come up in the Xavior Harrelson investigation,’ attorney Jennifer Frese said.
‘We had two people go missing in an incredibly small town and all we’re asking is Mr Bahena Rivera be given a fair shot and, through his attorneys, be allowed to (learn about those investigations).’
The defense claimed that the 50-year-old man under scrutiny in the Harrelson case was previously accused of running a sex trafficking ring out of a home and kidnapping a woman he met in Tibbetts’ hometown in May 2018.
Bahena Rivera, a dairy farm worker, claimed in his testimony that two masked men were responsible for the killing and had forced him to drive them around and dispose of Tibbetts’ body at gunpoint. Tibbetts’ partially naked and decomposing body was found dumped in this corn field in 2018
Prosecutors told jurors that an autopsy found that she had been stabbed seven to 12 times in the chest, ribs, neck, and skull, and that she died from sharp force injuries
That woman told investigators that a man lured her to a house where she was repeatedly drugged, raped, and held against her will until August 2018. The woman said she sometimes would hear other women’s voices in the home.
Law enforcement officials used the information to obtain a warrant to search the home days after they interviewed her in March 2019 but it had already been vacated by the man.
Defense lawyer Chad Frese said prosecutors should have disclosed information related to those allegations, which were investigated in 2019 but did not result in charges.
He said it was odd that such a small, rural area has had so many reported abductions.
‘There’s something rotten within this area and they don’t want to provide us any information,’ he said.
The prosecutor said it was ‘unconscionable’ that defense lawyers publicly revealed information about the ongoing investigation into the boy’s disappearance and that it was not connected to Tibbetts’ death.
The defense had previously noted the 50-year-old man is the former live-in boyfriend of Xavior’s mother and that the two maintained a friendly relationship.
Investigators searching for Xavior began looking for the man almost immediately and arrested him on an unrelated outstanding warrant in another county the day after the boy was reported missing.
He has not been charged with any crimes related to the disappearance but remains in custody.