Judge delays sentencing man convicted in Mollie Tibbetts’ murder amid new evidence

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 27, is convicted of first-degree murder in the 2018 killing of the 20-year-old woman

Danielle Zoellner
New York
Thursday 15 July 2021 00:08 BST
The judge has delayed sentencing a man convicted in the murder of Mollie Tibbetts
The judge has delayed sentencing a man convicted in the murder of Mollie Tibbetts (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
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A judge has delayed sentencing for the man convicted in the killing of college student Mollie Tibbetts, following defense attorneys revealing that two witnesses have come forward alleging someone else killed the woman.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera, 27, was expected to receive life in prison without the possibility of parole during his sentencing hearing on Wednesday after he was convicted for the 2018 murder of Ms Tibbetts.

But Judge Joel Yates announced a delay in the sentencing and instead will hold a hearing on Thursday on a defence motion to set aside the verdict and schedule a new trial.

This came after Bahena Rivera’s defence attorneys filed a new motion about two witnesses who came forward to police during their client’s trial with testimony that allegedly corroborated what the convicted man said had occurred when Ms Tibbetts was murdered.

A jury in May found Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder in the stabbing of the 20-year-old, who was a student at the University of Iowa.

Ms Tibbetts vanished while going for a run in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, in July 2018.

The case against Bahena Rivera, a Mexican national farmworker, was built on surveillance footage showing the man driving in the vicinity of where Ms Tibbetts disappeared. Additionally, DNA evidence showed her blood in his trunk and the man gave a partial confession to investigators by guiding them to a cornfield where her body was eventually found one month after her disappearance.

But Bahena Rivera also claimed in his testimony that two masked men were involved in the killing by forcing him to drive them and then dispose of the 20-year-old’s body in the remote cornfield. The men, according to Bahena Rivera, held him at gunpoint.

The defence attorneys filed a motion on Tuesday claiming that the prosecution failed to disclose a separate investigation that was taking place at the same time of Ms Tibbetts’ murder.

A man allegedly was operating a sex trafficking “trap house” in New Sharon, Iowa – which was just 27 miles from where Ms Tibbetts went missing in 2018.

One new witness has also purportedly claimed the real killer – who was in jail with one of the witnesses at the time – told them that he was responsible for sexually assaulting and killing the woman. The man was connected with the sex trafficking “trap house”.

“That Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbett, because I raped her and killed her,” the witness said in testimony to police about what the confessed killer told them, according to a defence motion.

Another witness, who was not connected with the first witness, also spoke to police about the murder and gave testimony of a similar confession given to them by the same man. But police dismissed this testimony because they believed the witness was intoxicated at the time.

While on the stand during his trial in May, Bahena Rivera admitted to placing Ms Tibbetts’ body in the cornfield but claimed he did not murder her. He said that he failed to tell investigators about the two masked men because they allegedly threatened those close to him.

The jury deliberated for seven hours before finding Bahena Rivera guilty for first-degree murder.

The Thursday hearing now scheduled will cover the defence motion for prosecutors to turn over new evidence about the case.

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