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Arguments presented on Bahena Rivera trial request, ruling not coming today

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 6:40 AM CDT
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MONTEZUMA, Iowa (KCRG) - Arguments were presented on Tuesday for, and against, a new first-degree murder trial for Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the man who was convicted earlier this year for killing Mollie Tibbetts.

Attorneys for Bahena Rivera and the state of Iowa presented their arguments to Judge Joel Yates in Poweshiek County District Court in a proceeding that lasted a little over four hours. At the end of the arguments, Yates said he would take everything into consideration and issue a written ruling, though later indicated that the ruling will not be released any earlier than Wednesday.

Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s defense attorneys Chad & Jennifer Frese filed several subpoenas ahead of Tuesday’s hearing. They included one for the Mahaska County Sheriff and one for the woman who first reported Xavier Harrelson missing. Court records show the state filed a motion to quash subpoenas Monday. In that motion, the state said “this court ruled that such requests are a fishing expedition” in its ruling on July 16.

On Tuesday, the defense called Deputy Joe Meyer with the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office. He said a man from the trailer park where Xavier Harrelson lived came forward last night saying Xavier’s mom Sarah reported seeing Mollie Tibbetts at a trap house in New Sharon.

The defense also called Arne Maki, the prisoner that came forward during Bahena Rivera’s trial and said that his cellmate admitted to killing Mollie Tibbetts.

Judge Yates quashed subpoenas the defense filed on the Mahaska County Sheriff, a deputy, and an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation agent. Other subpoenas for people to appear personally at the hearing Tuesday were not quashed.

During Bahena Rivera’s trial, Maki said Jones told him, “You know the guy that’s being charged for it right now, he’s like we set him up.”

Maki testified that Jones told him Tama Police were helping abduct women for a sex trafficker there. He testified that Jones said he stabbed Tibbetts to death because they had to get rid of her. He said Jones told him, “if the police went to the next house over they would have caught her.”

Prosecutors questioned Maki’s story, asking if he recalled telling one of the interviewers that Gavin had told him the reason Mollie was killed was that the search was getting too close to the location where she was being held, to which Maki said, “no.”

After being formally dismissed from court Maki leaned into the microphone: “I just want to say one thing, my thoughts and prayers go out to the Tibbetts family.”

Jennifer Frese asked about the court’s contact with Gavin Jones. Judge Yates said that six years ago, Jones’ father was his son’s baseball coach. He doesn’t recall ever talking with him and said there is no conflict for him in this case.

The defense next called Agent Trent Vileta, with the Iowa DCI. Vileta was asked about a number of people that gave tips to investigators when Tibbetts was missing. He said they were getting around 100 tips per day in the Mollie Tibbetts case. Vileta got noticeably frustrated during the questioning but said investigators received all kinds of speculation.

The state’s attorneys objected to questions to Vileta about the Harrelson investigation, saying there is no evidence that the two case are connected. Frese rebutted that they are trying to tie the two cases together. Judge Yates encouraged the defense to “go ahead and get there” if that was their intention.

Vileta added that “Cristhian [Bahena] Rivera has said he did this all by himself, and I never heard those other names before a couple weeks ago.”

Samantha Rix, the first person to report Harrelson missing, was the next witness called. Her son is best friends with Harrelson. The defense spent time asking questions about that disappearance, which drew an objection from the state on the relevance of the questions. Judge Yates again encouraged the defense to make their point, saying they were spending too much time on another case.

Deputy Johnson, with the Mahaska County Sheriff’s Office, testified that he was present for a report from a woman in 2019 which claimed she had been trafficked out of a home in New Sharon. She said that the home was frequented by James Lowe, 50, who is facing federal firearms charges. Previously filed motions from the defense argued that Lowe was in a relationship with Harrelson’s mother, Sarah, and that they lived together for a period of time.

Bahena Rivera’s defense attorney’s motion attempted to link the Tibbetts murder to Harrelson’s disappearance, who went missing in the same county.

“It is no coincidence that this boy was abducted the same time this trial was wrapping up, the same time Cristhian Bahena Rivera testified,” Frese said.

Johnson said that Lowe was never charged in connection to that allegation due to a lack of evidence to support the claims.

Bahena Rivera was convicted of murdering Tibbetts this past May. He faces a life sentence in prison, which was set to be handed down in June, but it was delayed for Tuesday’s proceedings.

The Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office said Harrelson was last seen at around 11:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 27. He was last known to be wearing a red t-shirt, blue pajama pants, and black high-top shoes. He has brown hair and blue eyes, and he is about 4′8″ tall and 100 pounds.

Anyone with any information related to Xavior’s disappearance should call the Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Office at 641-623-2107.

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