DES MOINES, Iowa – A judge last week rejected a request by Cristhian Bahena Rivera's attorneys to delve into investigations of kidnapping and sex trafficking in the surrounding area where 20-year-old Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts went missing in 2018 and was later found dead.
Bahena was convicted of first-degree murder in May for Tibbetts' abduction and stabbing. He had been scheduled to be sentenced to life in prison on Thursday, but the judge delayed that after Bahena's attorneys filed a flurry of motions last week claiming they had new evidence and accusing prosecutors of withholding information that might have helped to clear their client.
At a hearing Thursday, attorneys Chad and Jennifer Frese said two people came forward during his trial with claims that a third person, Gavin Jones, had confessed to them that he'd killed Tibbetts. They argued these reports fit together with a 2019 sex trafficking investigation in nearby Mahaska County, and possibly with the disappearance in May of Poweshiek County 11-year-old Xavior Harrelson.
Judge Joel Yates agreed to consider the Freses' motion to compel prosecutors to turn over information from these investigations, saying he'd make a decision by the end of the week. Prosecutors objected to the request, saying both that it is procedurally improper and that there is no evidence linking the Tibbetts case to any of the information being sought.
In his order Friday, Yates denied the motion, finding the defense requests "overly broad" and lacking a connection to Tibbetts or Bahena.
"A motion for new trial is not an opportunity for the Defendant to investigate third parties unassociated with this case," Yates wrote.
Regarding Jones, the new alleged suspect, Yates pointed out that the Freses have already moved for a new trial on the basis of new evidence they claim to have.
"Further evidence regarding Jones would be a fishing expedition," he wrote.
Still outstanding is Bahena's motion for a new trial, which is scheduled to be heard at a daylong hearing on Tuesday, July 27. Prosecutors have also opposed that request, writing in court filings that purported new evidence was, in fact, known before the verdict was delivered in Bahena's trial and that his attorneys declined the offer to pause the proceedings and investigate further when they had the chance.
If the motion for a new trial is rejected, Bahena's sentencing will be rescheduled after that date.
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This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Judge in Mollie Tibbetts murder case denies defense motion to compel