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In appeal, Bahena Rivera defense claims new suspect in Mollie Tibbetts murder

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 3:37 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Defense attorneys for the man convicted of killing Mollie Tibbetts filed an appeal claiming a jailhouse confession has identified a new suspect connected to sex trafficking and is demanding a new trial.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday to a mandatory life in prison sentence. A jury convicted him in May of killing 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts in Poweshiek County in 2018. During the trial, Bahena Rivera blamed two mystery men for killing Tibbetts and then leaving him with her body to hide in a cornfield.

In an appeal filed last week, Bahena Rivera’s attorneys say an inmate came forward during the trial claiming a former cellmate had admitted to being involved in the murder of Mollie Tibbetts.

“DEFENDANT HAS DISCOVERED IMPORTANT AND MATERIAL EVIDENCE IN THE DEFENDANT’S FAVOR SINCE THE VERDICT, WHICH THE DEFENDANT COULD NOT WITH REASONABLE DILIGENCE HAVE DISCOVERED AND PRODUCED AT THE TRIAL,” the filing reads.

The appeal does not identify either inmate involved but a judge has ordered Arne Maki to be transported from the prison in Mount Pleasant for Bahena Rivera’s sentencing on Thursday. Maki is serving a sentence on domestic violence out of Keokuk County and is scheduled to be released next June.

According to the appeal, an inmate (known as inmate 1) says his cellmate (identified only as inmate 2) told him he saw Tibbetts bound and gagged in the home of a 50-year-old man. The cellmate said the initial plan was to traffick Tibbetts into the sex trade but then “publicity got too big too quick and something went wrong”.

Inmate 2 said the 50-year-old sex trafficker then came up with a plan to kill Tibbetts and pin it on a Hispanic man. Inmate 2 said he and another man then executed that plan.

“Inmate initially thought that Inmate 2 was bluster and exaggerating,” the appeal reads. “It was not until he saw the news and heard of the testimony of Cristhian Bahena Rivera.”

The appeal also references another individual who seemed to corroborate that story, identifying the same person as inmate 2. That person told Poweshiek County Sheriff’s deputies that he was in a car with inmate 2 when police stopped it. Before being arrested, the man said inmate 2 put a gun to his head and confessed to killing Mollie Tibbetts.

“During the time leading up the arrest, one of the individuals in the automobile pulled a pistol on him/her and held it to his/her head and exclaimed “that Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbetts’ because I raped her and killed her,” the appeal reads.

The appeal also argues poor jury instructions as another reason for a new trial.

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