Court denies request for mistrial in Mollie Tibbetts murder case

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Cristhian Bahena Rivera listens as Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown delivers his closing arguments in his trial, Thursday, May 27, 2021, at the Scott County Courthouse in Davenport, Iowa. Bahena Rivera is on trial after being charged with first degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts in July 2018. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, pool) and FILE – In this September 2016 file photo provided by Kim Calderwood, Mollie Tibbetts poses for a picture during homecoming festivities at BGM High School in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. Video evidence, DNA analysis and a partial confession will be critical to proving Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a farm laborer, stabbed Tibbetts, a University of Iowa student, to death while she was out for a run in 2018, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Kim Calderwood via AP, File)

A request for a mistrial in the Mollie Tibbetts murder case has been overruled and denied.

In a trial that began May 17 in Scott County Court, Cristhian Bahena Rivera was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts on May 28.

Court documents filed Friday in Poweshiek County say a state’s witness had watched live-streamed coverage of the trial from a room outside the courtroom.

The court disclosed this to the attorneys involved outside the presence of the jury. After he conferred with his attorneys, Rivera asked for a mistrial based upon the livestream viewing.

The court issued an oral ruling denying the motion, and found that no party had asked for a sequestration order and no prejudice had resulted.

No formal sequestration ever was requested or issued by the court.

Under Iowa law, exclusion of witnesses is not a right and only obligated upon court order, the document says. Without such an order, state witnesses who saw the livestream did not violate any court mandate.

Additionally, Rivera provided no example that prejudice occurred from the livestream viewing.

“A mistrial is a drastic measure taken as a response to something so highly prejudicial no curative action could be taken by court,” court records say.

Rivera’s lack of showing of prejudice “necessarily renders a mistrial to be improper and unwarranted in this situation,” the document says.

Rivera, back in Poweshiek County Jail, is scheduled to be sentenced July 15 in Montezuma, Iowa. With this verdict, he faces life in prison.

The trial was a change of venue from Poweshiek County, where the murder happened, to Scott County. A change of venue is granted when there is a likelihood that a fair and impartial jury cannot be selected because of a high degree of prejudice.

Additionally, court records say, a previous order to have a presentence investigation report prepared has been withdrawn.

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