The ex-farmworker convicted of murdering University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts will not face sentencing this week, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Defense attorneys have accused prosecutors of withholding evidence about a nearby sex-trafficking “trap house” and other potential suspects. Cristhian Bahena Rivera was expected to be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole Thursday after he was convicted in May of murdering Tibbetts in summer 2018 and dumping her body in a cornfield. Instead, Judge Joel Yates agreed to delay the sentencing until they’re able to schedule a hearing on a motion for a new trial after defense lawyers accused prosecutors of failing to disclose a sex-trafficking investigation near where the 20-year-old disappeared, according to ABC News.
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On Tuesday, Bahena Rivera’s attorneys filed a motion, alleging prosecutors failed to disclose a separate investigation was occurring at the time of Tibbetts’ disappearance involving a man allegedly operating a sex trafficking “trap house” in New Sharon, Iowa, 27 miles from Brooklyn, Iowa, where Tibbetts went missing on July 18, 2018.
The 50-year-old man the defense attorneys identified by name in their motion was once the live-in boyfriend of the mother of 11-year-old Xavior Harrelson, who vanished from a rural Iowa trailer park on May 27, a day before the jury found Bahena Rivera guilty. The motion also claimed that an investigation by the defense found that, in the past few years, at least 10 children have been reported missing in or near Poweshiek County, Iowa, the same county where Tibbetts was stabbed to death and dumped in a cornfield.
The defense attorneys filed court papers last week asking for a new trial based on information from two witnesses who came forward to law enforcement in May saying they independently spoke to a man who claimed he and a 50-year-old sex trafficker killed Tibbetts and framed Bahena Rivera. “That Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbett, because I raped her and killed her,” the witness claimed the confessed killer told him, according to the earlier defense motion.
Bahena Rivera admitted on the witness stand that he placed Tibbetts’ body in the cornfield but was not involved in her murder. Bahena Rivera claimed during his testimony that he didn’t tell investigators about the masked men because they threatened to harm his former girlfriend, the mother of his daughter, if he did. In his closing argument, prosecutor Scott Brown called Bahena Rivera’s testimony a “figment of his imagination.” A jury deliberated seven hours over two days before finding Bahena Rivera guilty.