Judge denies new trial request in Mollie Tibbetts case

Aug 2, 2021, 2:15 PM | Updated: Aug 3, 2021, 6:57 am

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A judge on Monday rejected a convicted man’s request for a new trial in the 2018 killing of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, whose body was found in a cornfield weeks after she disappeared while out for a run near her small hometown.

Judge Joel Yates’ ruling cleared the way for sentencing to proceed Aug. 30 in the trial of Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who was convicted in May of first-degree murder in Tibbetts’ death. The former farmhand, who came to the U.S. illegally as a teenager, faces a sentence of life in prison.

Yates rejected efforts by Bahena Rivera’s attorneys to implicate others, saying much of the evidence they presented after he was convicted was known to them before the verdict was handed down. 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 trial testimony and evidence presented by Bahena Rivera’s own witnesses.

“In reviewing the evidence and testimony provided at trial, the court finds the verdict was not contrary to the weight of the evidence,” Yates wrote.

During questioning by police, Bahena Rivera acknowledged that he encountered Tibbetts as she was running near her small eastern Iowa hometown of Brooklyn and he led investigators to the field where her body lay hidden under cornstalks.

But during his trial, he claimed publicly for the first time that two masked men kidnapped him at gunpoint from his trailer, forced him to drive to where Tibbetts was running on a rural road, killed her, put her body in his trunk and made him dispose of it. He said he didn’t tell investigators about the two men earlier because they had threatened to kill his ex-girlfriend and young daughter.

Bahena Rivera was to be sentenced last month. But toward the end of the testimony portion of his trial, two new witnesses came forward independently of one another and told police that a local 21-year-old man told them he had killed Tibbetts. Defense lawyers requested a new trial based on that and other newly discovered information, and Yates agreed to postpone sentencing while he considered their request.

At a hearing last week, Bahena Rivera’s lawyers sought to link Tibbetts’ death to another young woman’s report of having been kidnapped and sexually assaulted at an area home used for sex trafficking in the summer of 2018, and the recent disappearance of an 11-year-old boy from the same county. A 50-year-old suspected methamphetamine dealer has been investigated in both cases but hasn’t been charged in either, and prosecutors say he has no ties to Tibbetts.

Prosecutors have said they were confident that Bahena Rivera killed Tibbetts and they pointed out that his own account of what happened didn’t align with what the two new witnesses told police.

“We are pleased that the judge upheld the jury’s verdict and we look forward to moving to sentencing,” said Lynn Hicks, a spokesman for the state attorney general.

Attorneys for Bahena Rivera did not immediately reply to messages seeking comment.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Associated Press

Poll: Many pessimistic about improving standard of living

NEW YORK (AP) — More than half of Americans believe it’s unlikely younger people today will have better lives than their parents, according to a new poll from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Most of those polled said that raising a family […]
9 hours ago
Musicians Martin Gore, left, and Dave Gahan of the British band Depeche Mode stand in front of a ph...
Associated Press

Depeche Mode line up 1st album, tour in over 5 years

BERLIN (AP) — Depeche Mode have lined up a new album and the band’s first live shows in more than five years, an announcement that comes months after the death of founding member Andy “Fletch” Fletcher. The band said in Berlin on Tuesday that the album, “Memento Mori,” will be released next spring. The accompanying […]
9 hours ago
Associated Press

Wisconsin Democrats put abortion in spotlight

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democrats up for election in five weeks put abortion in the spotlight Tuesday, with the Republican-controlled Legislature forced to convene a special session on Gov. Tony Evers’ call to create a way for voters to get a chance to repeal the state’s 1849 abortion ban. Evers and other Democrats on […]
9 hours ago
FILE - Country music great Loretta Lynn poses for a portrait in September 2000 in Nashville, Tenn. ...
Associated Press

Loretta Lynn, coal miner’s daughter and country queen, dies

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Loretta Lynn, the Kentucky coal miner’s daughter whose frank songs about life and love as a woman in Appalachia pulled her out of poverty and made her a pillar of country music, has died. She was 90. In a statement provided to The Associated Press, Lynn’s family said she died Tuesday […]
9 hours ago
FILE - Andy Ogles speaks to supporters after being declared the winner in Tennessee's 5th Congressi...
Associated Press

GOP front-runner lies low in open US House race in Nashville

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nearly two months after far-right conservative Andy Ogles secured the Republican nomination in a reconfigured congressional district that cuts into left-leaning Nashville, the former rural county mayor has largely vanished from the public arena. In August, Ogles won a nine-way primary race for the state’s 5th Congressional District, which GOP lawmakers […]
9 hours ago
Associated Press

Sheriff: Baby among 4 family members kidnapped in California

MERCED, Calif. (AP) — Sheriff’s officials in central California released photos of a possible suspect in the kidnapping of four members of a family, including an 8-month-old child. The Merced County Sheriff’s Office said the child’s mother, father and uncle were taken against their will at gunpoint from a business in the city of Merced […]
9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
Judge denies new trial request in Mollie Tibbetts case