Judge denies new trial request in Mollie Tibbetts case – FOX21 News Colorado
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – A judge on Monday dismissed a sentenced man’s request for a retrial for the 2018 murder of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, whose body was found in a cornfield weeks after her disappearance while running near her small hometown.
Judge Joel Yates ‘ruling paved the way for sentencing on August 30 in the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who was convicted in May of first degree murder in Tibbetts’ death. The former farm worker, who arrived in the United States illegally as a teenager, faces a life sentence.
Yates rejected efforts by Bahena Rivera’s lawyers to implicate others, saying much of the evidence they presented after her conviction was known to them before the verdict was delivered. To grant a new trial, any additional evidence would have to be new and revealed after the verdict, he wrote.
The judge also said many of the new allegations conflicted with testimony at trial and evidence presented by Bahena Rivera’s own witnesses.
“By reviewing the evidence and testimony provided at the trial, the court concludes that the verdict was not contrary to the weight of the evidence,” Yates wrote.
During questioning by police, Bahena Rivera admitted to encountering Tibbetts while she was running near her small hometown of Brooklyn, in eastern Iowa, and he led investigators to the field where her body was hidden under corn stalks.
But during his trial he publicly claimed for the first time that two masked men kidnapped him at gunpoint from his trailer, forced him to go to where Tibbetts was running on a road rural, killed her, put her body in her trunk and had her thrown out of it. He said he had not spoken to investigators about the two men earlier because they threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend and young daughter.
Bahena Rivera was due to be sentenced last month. But towards the end of the testimony portion of his trial, two new witnesses came forward independently of each other and told police that a 21-year-old local man told them he had killed Tibbetts. Defense attorneys requested a new trial based on this and other newly uncovered information, and Yates agreed to postpone the sentencing while he considered their request.
In a hearing last week, attorneys for Bahena Rivera sought to link Tibbetts’ death to another young woman’s report that she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted at a nearby home in use. for sex trafficking in the summer of 2018, and the recent disappearance of an 11-year-old male from the same county. An alleged 50-year-old methamphetamine trafficker was investigated in both cases but was not charged in either, and prosecutors say he has no connection with Tibbetts.
Prosecutors said they were convinced Bahena Rivera killed Tibbetts and stressed that her own account of what happened did not match what the two new witnesses told police.
“We are pleased that the judge upheld the jury’s verdict and look forward to moving on to sentencing,” said Lynn Hicks, spokesperson for the state attorney general.
Lawyers for Bahena Rivera did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.