Prosecutor calls retrial request by Mollie Tibbetts killer a ‘fishing expedition’

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An Iowa judge is expected to decide as early as Friday whether to grant a request from Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s attorneys, the condemned man of murdering a student at the University of Iowa Mollie Tibbetts, to force law enforcement agencies to review evidence in an alleged sex trafficking investigation and search for a missing 11-year-old boy.

Bahena Rivera’s lawyers argued Thursday that they suspect the two cases are related to a man they believe could be Tibbetts’ killer.

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“There’s something rocky about this area,” attorney Chad Frese said, adding that the sex trafficking investigation and Xavior Harrelson’s disappearance both took place in the same rural area where Tibbetts, 20, was kidnapped while jogging in 2018 and murdered .

The request to review records in both cases came as part of a motion by Bahena Rivera and his lawyers for a new trial based on evidence revealed by two independent witnesses who allege the same man told them he and a 50-year-old sex trafficker kidnapped Tibbetts and killed her when the search for her whereabouts drew national attention.

In Poweshiek County, Iowa, Judge Joel Yates said he will decide by the end of this week whether to force law enforcement agencies to allow defense attorneys to review evidence in investigations that prosecutors say are unrelated. with the Tibbetts case.

“We resist providing anything they ask for. There is no discovery after the trial,” Attorney General Scott Brown, an assistant attorney general for the state of Iowa, told Yates, calling the defense request “a fishing expedition.” “.

“If they want to take themselves out of trying to figure out all this confusing information that has been presented to the court, go ahead and do that,” Brown said of the defense. “But there is nothing in the rules, nothing in the jurisprudence that compels the state to run after him because they ask us to.”

Yates has tentatively scheduled a second hearing for July 27 on the remainder of the defense motion for a retrial.

Yates was scheduled to sentence Bahena Rivera on Thursday, but he postponed it to hear the defense argue his motion.

During Thursday’s hearing, Bahena Rivera sat handcuffed at the defense table, dressed in black and white striped prison clothes and listening to the proceedings with the help of a Spanish interpreter.

A jury convicted Bahena Rivera, a 27-year-old Mexican farm worker, of first-degree murder in May. Bahena Rivera faces a mandatory life sentence with no chance of parole.

Defense attorneys requested a new trial after Brown informed them before the verdict was announced that an inmate at a local jail had turned himself in to authorities, alleging that his cellmate told him he and a 50-year-old alleged sex trafficker Tibbetts and framed a Spanish man. .

Bahena Rivera’s lawyers filed a motion Tuesday alleging that prosecutors failed to disclose that a separate investigation was underway at the time of Tibbetts’ disappearance involving a man, who is now in prison on firearms charges. who reportedly operates a sex trafficking “trap house” in New Sharon, Iowa, which is 44 miles from where Tibbetts went missing on July 18, 2018. The man was once the live-in boyfriend of Xavior Harrelson’s mother, who has been missing since May 27, according to defense lawyers.

Defense attorneys also handed Yates a search warrant executed in 2019 on the suspected sex trafficker’s home, which the witness said confirms what the witness claims his cellmate told him. The witness alleged that his cellmate, whom the defense attorneys cited in their petition and in their arguments in court, told him that he had seen Tibbetts tied up and gagged in the trap house and that he participated in her murder.

A second witness contacted authorities within hours after the first witness claimed the same man told her a similar story, lawyers said.

“That evidence is exculpatory and it has not been delivered,” attorney Jennifer Frese, who is married to Chad Frese, said of the investigation into the sex trafficking home and the disappearance of the missing boy.

Brown said he disclosed the information about the detained witness to come forward to the defense as soon as he learned of it, which he said was the day the defense dropped its case. He said he had offered to stop the trial while the new evidence was examined, but Chad Frese turned down the offer because, according to Brown, the information “did not match what the defendant said”.

During the trial, Bahena Rivera took the stand and testified that he had been kidnapped by two masked men who forced him to take them to where Tibbetts was going to go jogging. He claimed that when they found Tibbetts, one of the men stabbed her to death, put her body in the trunk of Bahena Rivera’s car and forced him to a cornfield, where the young woman’s badly decomposed remains were discovered a month after she went missing. .

Bahena Rivera admitted on the witness stand that he placed Tibbetts’ body in the cornfield, but said he was not involved in her murder. In addition, Bahena Rivera claimed during his testimony that he did not tell investigators about the masked men because they threatened to harm his former girlfriend, his daughter’s mother, if he did.

“There is no connection whatsoever between the disappearance of Xavior Harrelson and Mollie Tibbetts,” Brown said. “Wow, that’s all I can say in regards to their (defense’s) request to go down that road.”

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