POWESHIEK COUNTY, IOWA — Attorneys for Cristhian Bahena Rivera on Thursday laid out a complex alternative theory to the murder of Mollie Tibbetts that they say proves their client is innocent. Prosecutors say their theory is entirely lacking in evidence and should not affect sentencing in Rivera’s murder trial – which is already complete – and relies on testimony from a dubious source.
Earlier this week, Rivera’s attorneys – Chad and Jennifer Frese – filed motions requesting a new trial for Rivera in light of new evidence and asking that the state provide further evidence to them. The new twist in the case is based on information provided to authorities during Rivera’s trial by an inmate at an Iowa jail. That information was shared with prosecutors who in turn shared it with the defense. Rivera’s attorney’s were given the opportunity to delay the trial and pursue the story, but chose not to at the time.
According to Rivera’s attorneys, two unconnected people have each come forward to say that the same man, Gavin Jones, admitted that he killed Mollie Tibbetts. The first witness is an inmate at an Iowa jail who says Jones told him that he abducted Tibbetts to be sex trafficked. The second witness, a former girlfriend of Jones’, says he admitted to killing Tibbetts to her as well.
“No evidence supports it. None. Zero. There’s nothing there.”Scott Brown, Assistant Attorney General
The Division of Criminal Investigation also condemned the defense for invoking the name of Xavior Harrelson, the 11-year-old boy who went missing in nearby Montezuma days after Rivera was convicted.
“The defense attorneys were basically leveling allegations against people,” said Mitch Mortvedt of the Division of Criminal Investigation. You don’t want any pre-judgment with these investigations, but a lot of times, that’s where our society is, a rush to judgment.”
Mortvedt said their attempts to tie Harrelson’s disappearance to a mysterious figure are inaccurate. He says the DCI does not have any suspects yet, and that Harrelson’s situation is still a missing persons case, not a criminal investigation.
“We’re still dedicating resources, personnel, and time to find Xavior, and will continue to do so,” Mortvedt said. “With Xavior’s case or any investigation, all we want are the facts.”
The Frese’s say inmate Arne Maki came forward to share his story after hearing Cristhian Rivera testify in May that two masked men had left him alone in rural Poweshiek County with Mollie Tibbetts body. “Arne Macke, after listening to Cristhian Bahena Rivera testify at trial, realized that Mr. Bahena Rivera’s statements corroborated a statement by another inmate that he resided with at the Keokuk County jail. That inmate’s name is Gavin Jones,” Jennifer Frese said in court Thursday, “Gavin Jones admitted to Arne Macke that he and another gentleman were the killers of Mollie Tibbetts.”
According to Maki’s story, which he shared with authorities during the trial, Jones says that Tibbetts was abducted for the purposes of being sex-trafficked, but she was killed after her abduction made national headlines.
Prosecutors were aware of this story during the trial, but declined to pause the trial to investigate it. Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown, who is trying the case for the state, says the Frese’s had their chance. “They’ve got buyers remorse when it comes to this information,” Brown said in court, “We offered to stop the trial and go to you to stop the trial and pursue the information that Mr. Macke was providing. They declined.”
But the Frese’s say their own investigation of the case has provided more information, some they say should have been made available before Rivera’s trial.
Hours after Maki told authorities this story, according to the Frese’s, another witness shared the same story. Lindey Voss told authorities that she was Jones’ ex-girlfriend and that he had admitted the same thing to her. She says he told her that he worked for a “50-year-old man” who sex-trafficked women in the area. Voss told police that Jones’ was violent, had held a gun to her head and that she had obtained a protection order against him.
The Freses say they’ve also learned of another man they say could have been involved in the disappearance of Mollie Tibbetts – as well as the disappearance of Xavior Harrelson and the abduction of another woman. The Freses say this woman was found walking along a rural highway in Mahaska County in April 2019. The woman told the trooper that she’d been drugged, held captive and prostituted for months by a man named James Lowe at a home in New Sharon, Iowa.
According to the woman, she met up with Lowe at a Casey’s in Brooklyn in March 2019 and followed him to a nearby home. She says she was drugged to the point she couldn’t give or deny consent and repeatedly prostituted for months at the home. She says she could hear the voices of other women being kept in the house as well. A search warrant was later executed at the home in New Sharon where the woman claims she was held.
Jennifer Frese then extended the theory further, claiming that Lowe is also connected to the disappearance of Xavior Harrelson. The 11-year-old boy was last seen in Montezuma in May. There’s been no trace of him since. Frese told the court on Thursday that she has no doubt that Lowe is suspect in the investigation of Harrelson’s disappearance. Lowe is currently being held in the Linn County jail on a federal firearms violation. His arrest came two days after the disappearance of Harrelson.
“What information do we have? We have information that three people have vanished out of thin air in this small, rural county,”said Mrs. Frese, “Mollie Tibbetts, Xavior Harrelson and this woman who reported be abducted in May of 2018 and sex trafficked.”
In their Motion to Compel considered in court on Thursday morning, the Freses ask the state of Iowa to produce to them all information pertaining to:
- Any sex trafficking investigation involving James Lowe and all residents of Poweshiek and adjoining counties
- Any pending investigations of James Lowe during the period that Mollie Tibbett went missing
- Any investigations of Gavin Jones
Scott Brown told the judge that the Freses are welcome to all the information that they are requesting. However he says the state doesn’t have to dig up that information for them. “We resist everything that they are asking for. If they want to knock themselves out and find out all of this confusing information, go ahead,” said Brown, “There is nothing in the case law, in the rules that requires the state to chase its tail just because they are asking us to do it. They want it. That’s all they are saying.”
Brown said that while they have the right to ask for the information, he wanted to make clear that there is no actual evidence that anything that the Freses said is true. “All of the facts that Miss Frese laid out that somehow connect James Lowe or Gavin Jones or these other folks to this case – no evidence supports it. None. Zero. There’s nothing there,” said Brown.
“We have information that three people have vanished out of thin air in this small, rural county.”Jennifer Frese, attorney for Cristhian Rivera
Of he request that the Freses be allowed access to ongoing investigations that may be connected to the search for Xavior Harrelson, Brown called it ‘unconscionable’. “Now they want access to that? It’s a pending investigation. That cannot happen in this case,” Brown said, “There is no connection between anything with Xavier Harrelson and Mollie Tibbetts’ disappearance. ‘Wow’ is all I have to say with regards to their request to go down that road.”
The judge has said his ruling on the Motion to Compel will be issued by the end of this week. The Freses forewarned that if they are not granted access that a ‘flurry of subpoenas’ for information would follow.