Rivera’s defense tries linking Mollie Tibbetts’ murder to sex trafficking in strategy to win new trial

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MONTEZUMA, Iowa – The defense team for Cristhian Bahena Rivera spent Tuesday morning presenting its case during a hearing for a new trial. Back in May, Rivera was convicted of first-degree murder for the killing of Mollie Tibbetts.

Defense attorneys Chad and Jennifer Frese are trying to link Tibbetts’ death with Xavior Harrelson’s disappearance and sex trafficking as a way to prove their client didn’t commit the murder. They claim investigators ignored other leads in the case.

Rivera’s attorneys called the following witnesses to the stand Tuesday morning:

  1. Poweshiek County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Meyer received a complaint from a caller Monday night who didn’t like what people were saying about him. Caller claimed he heard from someone else that a person saw Mollie Tibbetts in a trap house at one point.
  2. Arne Maki spoke about his connection to Gavin Jones. According to Maki, Jones admitted to him in jail that he killed Mollie Tibbetts.
  3. Iowa DCI Special Agent Trent Vileta oversaw the Mollie Tibbetts investigation. The defense questioned him about any sex trafficking leads that were investigated. Prosecution confirmed evidence that corroborated Rivera was Tibbetts’ killer.
  4. Samantha Rix said she is the mother of Xavior Harrelson’s best friend and was the one who reported Xavior missing. She is acquainted with Xavior’s mother, Sarah, and knew James Lowe. 
  5. Ben Johnston works in narcotics with Mahaska County Sheriff’s Office. He is aware of James Lowe’s involvement with drug trafficking. The defense asked about the report of a woman who said she was sex trafficked by James Lowe.

Earlier in the morning, the defense offered four affidavits (written statements for use as evidence). Some were offered under seal.

A sixth person took stand Tuesday afternoon before the defense rested its case. Iowa County Sheriff’s Deputy David Wiebold was part of investigation regarding the disappearance of Xavior Harrelson and the involvement of James Lowe.

Judge Joel Yates says he will get a written ruling as soon as possible, but he does not plan to rule today.

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