Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a former farmworker convicted of murdering University of Iowa student, Mollie Tibbetts, won’t have to deal with sentencing this week, a judge ruled Wednesday — after a bombshell claim made by the defense attorneys who said prosecutors withheld evidence about sex trafficking and potential suspects.
On Tuesday, Bahena Rivera’s attorneys filed a motion, saying that the prosecutors didn’t disclose a secondary investigation that was happening at the time of Tibbetts’ disappearance. The other investigation related to a man who was allegedly operating a sex trafficking “trap house” in New Sharon, Iowa, 27 miles from Brooklyn, Iowa, where Mollie Tibbetts went missing on July 18, 2018.
The 50-year-old man identified by defense attorneys was at one time the live-in boyfriend of the mother of 11-year-old Xavior Harrelson, who disappeared in a rural Iowa trailer park on May 27, a day before the jury found Bahena Rivera guilty. The jury convicted Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a 27-year-old Mexican national farmworker, in May of first-degree murder. The conviction was for a 2018 kidnapping and killing of a college student.
“We are glad that Judge Yates has delayed sentencing to deal with this very important issue,” Chad Frese, one of Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s defense attorneys, told The Daily Beast. “In our opinion, there is really no other option at this point. The motions we have on file, we believe, detail some very troubling circumstances in the investigation of our client and includes some information that was withheld from us that is certainly exculpatory and relevant.”
The new information came a week after defense attorneys asked for a new trial, claiming witnesses told police a man boasted to them about raping and murdering a college student and framing Bahena Rivera, ABC News reported.
An important detail in the prosecution’s case is a surveillance video placed in Bahena Rivera’s car in the area where Tibbetts disappeared while out for a run. DNA evidence identified blood found in the trunk of Bahena Rivera’s car as Tibbetts’, and a partial confession by Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who directed investigators to a cornfield where Tibbetts’ body was found.
Last week, defense attorneys told the judge that two new witnesses came to police in May and claimed he and a 50-year-old sex trafficker killed the college student and framed the defendant, according to the report. “That Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbetts, because I raped her and killed her,” one witness reportedly told police the supposed real killer told him while they were in jail. The new witness said the man told him he saw Mollie Tibbetts tied up at the “trap house” owned by the 50-year-old man.
Another witness told the sheriff a story that sounded nearly identical, but cops said the witness was drunk and they couldn’t trust his testimony. Both new witnesses reportedly contacted the police on the day Cristhian Bahena Rivera testified he was kidnapped by masked men who told him to drive to the place Tibbetts was thought to be jogging.
Prosecutors from the Iowa State Attorney General’s Office have not yet commented.