Sentencing of Cristhian Bahena Rivera delayed as defense claims two new witnesses

At the end of May, Cristhian Bahena Rivera was convicted of first degree murder for the death of Mollie Tibbetts.  His sentencing was supposed to take place this week but now it has been postponed because his defense attorneys claim that two new witnesses have come forward to offer an alternate story of what happened to Tibbetts.

According to their court filing, a person incarcerated at an unnamed Iowa correctional facility approached their prison chaplain after seeing media coverage of the Bahena Rivera trial. On the stand, Bahena Rivera testified that two masked men had abducted him and forced him to assist with the kidnapping and killing of Tibbetts. Prosecutors afterward dismissed that account as fiction, but the witness, who is not named in the motion, told prison officials he could corroborate Bahena Rivera’s account.

According to the witness, during a previous stay at a county jail near Poweshiek County, another inmate claimed to have been involved in Tibbetts’ murder. The other inmate, identified only as “inmate 2” in court filings, said that he had seen Tibbetts bound and gagged in a “trap house” involved in the sex trade, and that he and an accomplice conspired with the owner of the house to kill Tibbetts and pin the blame on a Hispanic man.

According to the witness, “inmate 2” claimed Tibbetts was to have been sex trafficked, but because of the high publicity and intense investigation into her disappearance, she was killed instead.

The other new witness allegedly came forward on the same day (two days before the guilty verdict) and spoke to County deputies. This witness said he’d been in a car with the same person identified as inmate 2. While in the car that person spontaneously confessed, “that Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbetts because I raped her and killed her.” The second witness who told this story was described as appearing to be intoxicated.

On the basis of these new witnesses the defense is now asking for a new trial and today a judge decided to postpone sentencing and instead he will consider a motion to force prosecutors to turn over new information on a “trap house” operator who operated in the area and had been investigated back in 2018:

Cristhian Bahena Rivera was originally set to be sentenced to life in prison without a chance at parole Thursday…

Now the July 15 hearing will focus on a separate motion to compel prosecutors to turn over evidence and will pick a date for a new hearing that will focus on the defense’s motion for a new trial…

Both new witnesses are unknown to each other but one is scheduled to be hauled to court Thursday from the prison in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

So it sounds as if the judge is going to hear from at least one of these new witnesses and then decide whether or not this is reason to grant a new trial in the case.

This strikes me as a wild goose chase based on the word of a convict who may have his own reasons for wanting to associate himself with a case that has received lots of media attention. Still, I guess the judge has to make some effort to consider it. All that’s certain for now is that Rivera will not be starting his sentence tomorrow as expected.