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Mollie Tibbetts murder: Inmate to testify in defense motion for new trial

Cristhian Bahena Rivera's defense is asking for a new trial based on two new statements that name another person involved in the murder.

POWESHIEK COUNTY, Iowa — Updates here: The motion to compel has been denied; inmate did not testify

A judge in Poweshiek County, Iowa will hear testimony from an inmate who claims he heard another story about the murder of Mollie Tibbetts. That new evidence is part of the motion for a new trial filed last week.

Tibbetts was found stabbed to death in a cornfield back in August 2018. Farm worker Cristhian Bahena Rivera was charged with her murder after he led investigators to her body. A jury convicted him of first degree murder in May 2021.

Bahena Rivera's defense attorneys filed a motion for a new trial based on the the new evidence from two unrelated people, who both came forward on the same day, May 26, 2021, within hours of each other. Cristhian Bahena Rivera's trial was underway, and the defense had just rested it's case. 

What's in the motion for a new trial?

According to the motion, the first person to come forward was an inmate at the Mount Pleasant Correctional Center. The inmate reported to an associate warden at the prison that another inmate months before had told him about taking part in the plan to kill Tibbetts. 

According to the court documents, the inmate says he was told that "he [the inmate] and the second individual carried out a plan by this 50 year old male to kill Mollie Tibbetts. He indicated that the 50 year old male 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. 20. Inmate 2 then said they did, in fact, kill Mollie Tibbetts and carry out the plan in such a way that the Hispanic man would be incriminated."

The inmate claims he decided to come forward after hearing Bahena Rivera's own testimony on the witness stand that day. He told the jury that he dumped Mollie's body in a cornfield after he was kidnapped by two mystery men. He claimed the men killed Mollie and left her body in his car trunk. The inmate claims Rivera's testimony matched what he was told by the other inmate. 

On the same day, a second person came forward to law enforcement with another story about Mollie's murder. The defense writes in it's motion that this person is separate and unrelated to the first inmate's story.

The reporting party was described by the Poweshiek County deputy as “very emotional” and was likely under the influence. The person reported being in a car with four other people, when according to the court documents, "one of the individuals in the automobile pulled a pistol on him/her and held it to his/her head and exclaimed 'that Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbett’s because I raped her and killed her.'"

The person with the gun was identified as the same individual named by the inmate in the first account. 

The motion states, "This evidence would certainly have made a difference in the verdict. The defendant chose to testify and spoke of two individuals who were involved in the abduction and killing of Mollie Tibbetts. The DNA from Defendant’s trunk identified other individuals who were contributors to the blood mixture. It also helps explain the relative scarcity of blood in defendant’s trunk. While perhaps not every bit of the account fits neatly into 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 a jury."

What next?

The judge is allowing the inmate, the first person to come forward, to testify on Thursday morning, July 15, 2021. Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver says the judge will hear the testimony to consider the motion for a new trial. Klaver says the judge can either rule on it right away or wait a few days to consider. If the judge denies the motion for a new trial, the court will proceed with the sentencing of Cristhian Bahena Rivera. If the judge waits to give a ruling, the sentencing would be delayed. 

What happens during sentencing?

If the court proceeds with sentencing, the hearing will continue with victim impact statements. The judge will allow friends and family of the victim to address the court. Cristhian Bahena Rivera is also allowed an opportunity to speak, if he chooses. He faces life in prison without parole.