Attorneys for convicted murderer Cristhian Bahena Rivera are asking for a new trial in the murder of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts because both a prison inmate and a second source claim another person is Tibbetts’ true killer.
The Inmate’s Story
According to court documents, an inmate housed by the Iowa Department of Corrections came forward on May 26, 2021 — first to a prison chaplain, then to an associate warden and another corrections officer — to claim he had information about the Tibbetts murder. This first inmate said another inmate, identified in a defense document only as “Inmate 2,” had given him information about Tibbetts’ death while they were both incarcerated in Poweshiek County, Iowa, where Tibbetts was killed.
In a separate court filing, Arne Maki, who appears to be the inmate who conveyed the story of Inmate 2, has been ordered to appear on Thursday in a hearing surrounding the newly discovered information. District court judge Joel D. Yates ordered Maki to be produced at the courthouse for that hearing.
The broader story goes that Inmate 2 told the first inmate — presumably Maki — that he saw Tibbetts in a “trap house” used for sex trafficking. Tibbetts was allegedly “bound and gagged” therein; however, when news of her disappearance spread far and wide, the alleged sex traffickers killed her and found someone to pin it on — presumably Rivera.
Here’s how Rivera’s defense attorneys described in detail what Inmate 2 claimed happened to Tibbetts:
Inmate 2 then when on to detail that he and another individual whom he identifies by name, were staying in a “trap house” owned by an approximately 50 year old male involved in the sex trafficking trade. Inmate 2 discussed his relationship with this approximately 50 year old male and then stated that on one occasion he went to a second “trap house” owned by the male. Inmate 2 then advised inmate that at the second trap house he and the second individual saw Mollie Tibbetts bound and gagged.
Inmate 2 then admitted to Inmate that he and the second individual carried out a plan by this 50 year old male to kill Mollie Tibbetts. He indicated that the 50 year old male devised a plan for them to stab Mollie Tibbetts 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.
According to the defense documents, the inmate who related the story to prison officials originally assumed “Inmate 2 was bluster and exaggerating.”
“It was not until he saw the news and heard of the testimony of Cristhian Bahena Rivera,” the documents go on to claim, that the first inmate thought Inmate 2’s story might be true.
According to the defense, the inmate also revealed that he “believed that Mollie Tibbetts was going to be sex trafficked but the publicity got too big too quick and something went wrong.”
“The approximately 50 year old male was the sex trafficker,” Bahena Rivera’s defense said — citing the first inmate. “Inmate 2 said that federal authorities were next door to the ‘trap house’ at one point and getting too close to them.”
“[T]he second individual with Inmate 2 did not speak English very well and that they knew someone local to pin it on,” the defense went on to allege. “That Inmate gave a small amount of money to help Inmate 2 post a bail as Inmate 2 was afraid to go back home as he was facing an indictment.”
According to state records, Maki is in prison on a first offense domestic abuse charge (with the intent to inflict serious injury). He was in state custody as of October 19, 2020, and is due to be released December 4, 2021, from Iowa’s Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility.
The Second Source
A subsequent report provided to the defense indicated that another individual called the local authorities on May 26th to report having additional information on the case. That individual, who is said in the defense paperwork not to know the first inmate, ultimately pointed the finger at the same person the first inmate identified as being involved with Tibbetts’s death.
Again, from the defense documents at length (emphasis in original):
The reporting party indicated that in the previous month he/she had been in contact with law enforcement with four (4) other individuals in an automobile who ultimately ended up arrested and taken to jail. 34.During the time leading up the arrest, one of the individuals in the automobile pulled a pistol on him/her and held it to his/her head and exclaimed “that Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbett’s [sic] because I raped her and killed her.”
The reporting party knew the individual who held a gun to his/her head and made this exclamation. The individual who held the gun to his/her head and made the exclamation is the same individual identified to “inmate” as the individual who admitted to him as being the killer of Mollie Tibbetts and reported at the institution only four hours prior.
The statement given by this reporting party is further corroborated by the fact that when this individual and the others went to jail, it was the same county jail where “inmate” had been housed and had helped “inmate 2” post bond.
The second source was said by the police to be “very emotional,” “likely under the influence,” and therefore “as not being credible,” but the local authorities took the information down, interviewed the individual, and passed it along to the defense — as is required under the U.S. Constitution and Brady v. Maryland.
New Trial Request
The defense has requested a new trial given the information provided. Most of the information about these other potential witnesses was provided to the defense after its case in chief, which wrapped up at between 1:30 and 2:00 p.m. on May 26 — right when the witnesses were coming forward after the defendant himself testified:
In this matter, a new trial should be ordered as this evidence was not known prior to the verdict and could not have been found through the exercise of due diligence. The state did provide what little information they had subsequent to the defense resting its case and based on that representation, the defense moved forward. However, the information provided post-verdict was somewhat different than what the defense understood and certainly some of the information was not known even to the state when disclosed to the defense.
“Based on the record herein no judgment can be rendered on the verdict of guilty,” the defense wrote in other paperwork which seeks to arrest the judgment of guilt currently lodged against Bahena Rivera. “This motion should be granted as when viewed upon the whole record no legal judgment can be pronounced.”
The Defendant’s Testimony
Bahena Rivera testified at trial that he exited his shower one day while working at nearby farm and was confronted by two men. The men, he said, ordered him to drive to Brooklyn, Iowa, while vaguely referencing a woman running. According to Bahena Rivera’s testimony, the men ordered him to drive around town, to pass Tibbetts, and then ordered him to stop some distance down the road from where she was jogging; one of the men exited his car, presumably killed Tibbetts, and then ordered Rivera to drive to the spot where Tibbetts was killed to retrieve the body, he said. According to his account, the men then put Tibbetts’s body in the back of Bahena Rivera’s vehicle and told him to drive until they then found a location to dump the body. Law&Crime previously reported in detail about Rivera’s version of Tibbetts’s death.
The jury didn’t buy the defendant’s testimony at trial — and instead credited police testimony which indicated Bahena Rivera confessed to approaching Tibbetts while she was jogging and then killing the 20-year-old. Rivera testified that his police confession — which the jury believed — occurred under duress: he said the men who he claimed killed Tibbetts also threatened to kill his child and his child’s mother if he talked. He said he erroneously confessed to protect their lives. Bahena Rivera’s attorneys also said the defendant confessed because he was interrogated overnight after a grueling day of farm labor and was therefore exhausted.
The accounts of the two sources which are now cited as critical by the defense do not take into account surveillance video footage the authorities say shows Tibbetts jogging shortly before Bahena Rivera’s vehicle is seen passing the area numerous times. As Law&Crime previously reported in detail, video footage shows a jogger believed to be Tibbetts in the extreme distance at 19:45:34 on the day Tibbetts disappeared. Bahena Rivera’s vehicle was caught on camera passing the same home exactly 28 seconds later. It passed again 2:28 later, 3:16 later, and finally at 21:35 later.
Read the various relevant documents below:
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]