Unexpected Twists In Mollie Tibbetts' Murder Case Delay Cristhian Bahena Rivera's Sentencing

Photo: Iowa Department of Public Safety
Cristhian Bahena Rivera mugshot

The 2018 disappearance, abduction and murder of Mollie Tibbetts, 20, has plagued a small Iowa town for years now, and following an unexpected new twist just two months after a trial ended in migrant worker Cristhian Bahena Rivera being convicted of first-degree murder, it seems the ongoing case will continue to.

Rivera had been scheduled to be sentenced on July 16, but Judge Joel Yates agreed to delay the sentencing after Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s lawyers, Chad and Jennifer Frese, filed a motion for a new trial on his behalf on July 8.

Why was Cristhian Bahena Rivera's sentencing for Mollie Tibbetts' murder delayed?

According to the motion requesting a retrial, Rivera's attorneys claim they "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."

Rivera originally told law enforcement he remembered talking to Tibbetts before blacking out, only to wake up with her dead body in his trunk.

But he later doubled back, saying he'd been forced to go along two masked men who kidnapped him at gun point and threatened his and his daughter’s lives if he didn’t help them and if he reported anything to the police. He claimed the men then stabbed Tibbetts and left her body in the trunk of his car.

The jury apparently didn't believe the second version of events and found Rivera guilty, but his lawyers claim new information obtained from witnesses is worthy of a retrial.

RELATED: Where Was Mollie Tibbetts' Body Found? New Details On The Iowa Student Found Dead After Missing For 5 Weeks

What is the new evidence defense lawyers say may prove Cristhian Bahena Rivera is innocent of killing Mollie Tibbetts?

The new evidence laid out in the motion revolves around two new witnesses and information received by the Division of Criminal Investigation via someone at the Iowa Department of Corrections after the defense had already rested their case on May 26, 2021.

"The individual with the Department of Corrections had received information from an inmate that morning that the inmate had spoken, at some point in time, with another individual while both the inmate and other individual was incarcerated in a local county jail," the motion states.

They continue to explain that the inmate "was coming forward at this time because he had heard the testimony of Cristhian Bahena Rivera on television and it was at that point, he realized that the information given him by this other individual was likely true."

Shortly after Rivera's guilty verdict was announced, Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown provided his attorneys with a report on the interview with that inmate, as well a second report on another "independent third party witness."

The first new witness is an inmate who says another inmate told him he'd seen Mollie Tibbett bound and gagged before she was killed.

The man, identified as "Inmate" in the defense motion and now believed to be Arne Maki, says another man, identified as "Inmate 2" and now believed to be Gavin Jones, 21, told him he and another man had been staying at a "trap house” owned by a 50-year-old man he said was involved in sex trafficking.

Jones then divulged that he and his friend, now believed to be Dalton Hansen, 24, had both seen Mollie Tibbetts "bound and gagged" in the house, and that the two were instructed by the owner to kill her and "dump her body near a Hispanic male in order to make it appear that the Hispanic male committed the crime."

"Inmate 2 then said they did, in fact, kill Mollie Tibbetts and carry out the plan in such a way that the Hispanic man would be incriminated," the document continues.

Arne Maki

Photo: Keokuk County Sheriff's Office

Gavin Jones

Photo: Keokuk County Sheriff's Office

Maki thought the man was exaggerating until he heard Rivera's testimony on the news.

During interviews with investigators for defense, Maki shared his belief that "Mollie Tibbetts was going to be sex trafficked but the publicity got too big too quick and something went wrong," further stating "Inmate 2 said that federal authorities were next door to the 'trap house' at one point and getting too close to them."

RELATED: Someone Created A New Mollie Tibbetts Facebook Profile And Claims She Ran Away To Be With A Man

The second witness identified in the motion is a woman who says Jones told her he raped and killed Mollie Tibbetts.

A deputy sheriff from Poweshiek County revealed he'd been contacted on May 26, 2021 by a women who said she first tried calling the Mahaska County Sheriff with information regarding Tibbetts' case, but that they'd "dismissed the information as not being credible" because she appeared to be "under the influence."

When she was subsequently interviewed that same day by the Poweshiek County deputy, the woman, who does not know Maki, told investigators that one month prior, she'd been in a car with Gavin Jones and three others when Jones pulled a gun on her and said, “that Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbett’s because I raped her and killed her.”

"This evidence would certainly have made a difference in the verdict. The defendant chose to testify and spoke of two individuals who were involved in the abduction and killing of Mollie Tibbetts," the motion assets. "The DNA from Defendant’s trunk identified other individuals who were contributors to the blood mixture. It also helps explain the relative scarcity of blood in defendant’s trunk."

Jones and Hansen both say they are innocent and deny any involvement in Mollie Tibbetts' death.

In seperate conversations with The Associated Press, Jones and Hansen both claimed innocence and confusion, saying that they don’t know the 50-year-old “trap house” owner.

“The cops haven’t talked to me. No one has talked to me. You are the first person that has called me,” Jones said. “I wasn’t involved in anything. I have alibis and everything. I am just waiting for someone to come talk to me.”

The AP noted, however, that Jones "ended the interview without answering whether he had made prior statements about Tibbetts’ death."

Hansen said allegations of his involvement are "crazy," tell the AP, “I have no clue why my name even got brought up with this.”

Hansen shared that he and Jones grew up together in Sigourney, Iowa, and "were friends off and on until about two years ago." And while he confirmed that he, like Jones, was incarcerated at the Keokuk County jail when Maki was, he didn’t know him well, adding that neither he nor Jones had even heard of the 50-year-old man said to have been the mastermind behind Tibbetts' kidnapping and murder.

Rivera's attorney Chad Frese said the denials from Jones and Hansen, both of whom have violent criminal records, aren't surprising.

“They aren’t going to stand up and say they did it,” Frese pointed out.

RELATED: Who Is Mollie Tibbetts' Boyfriend? New Details On Dalton Jack — And What He Knows About Her Death

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Rivera's lawyers filed a second motion asking for sentencing to be delayed while they investigate several disappearances they believe may be related.

Court documents filed by Rivera's attorneys on July 13 claim James Manuel Lowe, 50, is alleged to be the owner of the trap house operating the sex trafficking ring mentioned to Maki by Jones.

James Manuel Lowe

Photo: Linn County Sheriff's Office

In their request, they asked that prosecutors be compelled to turn over information on investigations surrounding the disappearances of 10 children in the area where Tibbett’s body was dumped, asserting that there may be a connection to the sex-trafficking ring and the Tibbett’s case.

The most recent disappearance involves an 11-year-old boy named Xavior Harrelson, who lived with his mother Sarah Harrelson, Lowe's ex-girlfriend, before he went missing in May.

"Through investigation it has been discovered that James Lowe was one of Sarah Harrelson’s paramours," the motion reads, adding that "Independent investigation by the defense has revealed that James Lowe may have been one of the last people to be near Xavior Harrelson before his disappearance."

Judge Yates denied this motion, claiming that the defense’s argument was too broad and that it would be “nothing more than a fishing expedition,” further stating that "A motion for new trial is not an opportunity for the Defendant to investigate third parties unassociated with this case."

He did, however, allow for a hearing on the motion for a new trial.

What happens next for Cristhian Bahena Rivera?

On Tuesday, July 27th, Judge Yates will hear the motion for a new trial and decide whether to move forward with a retrial or not.

Prosecutors are opposing the defense's request, saying the new evidence "was, in fact, known before the verdict was delivered in Bahena's trial and that his attorneys declined the offer to pause the proceedings and investigate further when they had the chance."

If the motion is not granted, Rivera's scheduling will be scheduled for another date.

RELATED: New Details About The Disappearance Of Mollie Tibbetts — Including The Man Police Are Searching For Who Reportedly Assaulted Another Jogger

Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice and relationships.