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Court hears arguments on alleged new evidence in death of Mollie Tibbetts

Bahena Rivera was convicted by a Scott County jury in May for the 2018 killing of 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.

MONTEZUMA, Iowa — EDITOR'S NOTE: A full replay of Thursday's hearing can be viewed via YouTube at the bottom of this story.

A Poweshiek County judge heard arguments Thursday in the murder trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, whose defense attorneys claim to have new evidence about who killed Mollie Tibbetts in 2018.

Tibbetts, a 20-year-old University of Iowa student, disappeared while on a run in her hometown of Brooklyn in July 2018. Her body was discovered a month later. 

Bahena Rivera was convicted of murdering her in May.

A motion to compel filed, Tuesday from the defense team, focuses on a man allegedly involved in a sex trafficking ring in the town of New Sharon.

Defense attorney Jennifer Frese argued Thursday they want an investigation into the lead, citing multiple missing people from the same area as Tibbetts.

"There's something rotten in the area," defense attorney Chad Frese added. "This is not coincidental."

Scroll down to see updates from the courtroom

Bahena Rivera's attorneys asked the state to produce evidence regarding sex trafficking in Poweshiek County, where the crime happened, as well as pending investigations that involve the story of a Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility inmate the defense says has more information about Tibbetts' killing. 

That inmate is the subject of the defense's motion for new trial, which will be the subject of a future court hearing. Judge Joel Yates has agreed to hear testimony from the inmate.

"All of the information alleged as a basis for a continuance of the motion and sentencing hearing is directly contrary to the defendant’s statements to police and his testimony at trial," prosecutors wrote in a response filing Wednesday.

In court Thursday, prosecutors said there is no obligation to provide discovery after a trial is completed.

"They've got buyer's remorse," Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown said. "We offered to stop the trial."

Yates is taking the rest of the week to decide how the court will proceed, and will issue a written ruling on the motion to compel.

A court hearing on the motion for new trial is set for July 27.

Watch the court hearing on YouTube

Courtroom updates: Thursday, July 15

10:00 a.m.

Judge Joel Yates says he will issue a written ruling on the motion to compel.

9:59 a.m.

Frese: "There's something rotten in this area - this is not coincidental." 

Brown says its unconscionable to put the Xavior Harrelson investigation information into the public like this, trying to connect it to Mollie.

9:54 a.m.

Chad Frese responding that the state had a report in May 2019 about a woman claiming she had been sex trafficked from Brooklyn, Iowa (2 months before Tibbetts disappeared). 

Says that info should have been disclosed pre-trial related to Rivera. 

9:51 a.m.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown says he notified the defense mid-trial about the inmate coming forward, but the Freses declined it as inconsistent.

"They've got buyer's remorse," he says. "We offered to stop the trial."

9:45 a.m.

Frese says she's confident Mollie Tibbetts name has come up in the course of investigating the Xavior Harrelson case. Says she believes Lowe is a suspect in his disappearance and is now linked to Mollie through the stories about Gavin Jones. 

9:42 a.m.

Frese says she wants more information about the investigation into Lowe, computer evidence seized in a potential sex trafficking investigation. 

"All we are asking is CBR to get a fair shot, to have his attorneys look at this information," she says.

9:35 a.m.

Frese says Lindsey Voss is the second person to come forward, also names her ex-boyfriend Gavin Jones. Says he admitted he killed Mollie. 

Frese says this information led them to investigate a man named James Lowe, believes him to be a sex trafficker out of Mahaska County, IA. Lowe is being held on federal firearms charges.

9:30 a.m. 

Court has begun, with Bahena Rivera in the courtroom.

Judge starts by allowing defense to give a statement. 

Jennifer Frese says she has evidence to offer, including inmate Arme Maki, the first to come forward after hearing Bahena Rivera's testimony. Says fellow inmate Gavin Jones told him he killed Mollie Tibbetts.

Frese says Jones claims Mollie was kidnapped for sex trafficking but that her disappearance "got too big too fast".

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"Although the claimed newly discovered evidence relates to the issues in the case since it concerns the death of Mollie Tibbetts, it cannot be said that it probably would have changed the result of the trial," they continue. "As detailed ... the information is wholly different than the testimony of the defendant and would have most certainly caused his testimony to be further questioned."

The motion for new trial revolves around two unrelated people defense attorneys say came forward on May 26, the day Bahena Rivera himself testified at trial.

Sentencing, which was originally scheduled for Thursday, will also take place at a later date.

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