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Judge in Mollie Tibbetts case denies defense request to introduce new evidence

Tibbetts Rivera split

MONTEZUMA, Iowa (KWWL) - Judge Joel Yates has denied a request by Cristian Bahena Rivera's attorney to compel prosecutors to hand over information about other suspects the defense claims could be connected to the case. Defense attorneys Chad and Jennifer Frese filed the motion this week.

Bahena Rivera was originally scheduled to be sentenced this week to life in prison for the 2018 killing of Mollie Tibbetts. Bahena Rivera was convicted of First Degree Murder in May. Judge Yates delayed sentencing until after he reviewed the defense motions.

In court on Thursday, defense lawyers said Arne Maki, an inmate at the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility, came forward after hearing Bahena Rivera's televised testimony. Maki originally thought statements made by a fellow inmate, now identified as Gavin Jones, were exaggerated. According to Maki, Jones admitted to being part of a duo that killed Tibbetts after seeing her in a sex trafficking "trap house" run by a 50-year-old man.

The Frese's identified James Lowe as a sex trafficker in the area. Lowe, 50, has previously been investigated for sex trafficking after a woman accused him of kidnapping her and forcing her into sex labor. No charges came from that investigation, but the attorneys want to see evidence from the investigation. Speaking with reporters after the hearing, they characterized it as pursuing a lead that could contain information relating to Mollie.

Lowe is currently being held in the Linn County jail on a federal hold.

Yates called the request "overly broad" and "lacking a nexus to the defendant."

"It is difficult for the court to see how the great deal of information could possibly be relevant to the defendant, to Mollie Tibbetts or the motion for a new trial," Yates wrote. "Those investigations are likely to contain confidential information about a variety of people, and the defendant's examination of those investigations would be nothing more than a fishing expedition."

According to the defense, Lowe is also connected to the case of 11-year-old Xavior Harrelson, who went missing May 27, just one day before a jury found Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder. Frese alleges Lowe had a relationship with Xavior's mother and found out this information from community members.

During his trial in May, Bahena Rivera admitted to placing Tibbetts' body in a cornfield and covering it with stalks but testified that two masked men were to blame for her murder. His testimony doesn't quite line up with what would have been new witnesses, including a woman, now identified as Lyndsey Voss, connected to Jones.

Voss reached out to law enforcement following Bahena Rivera's testimony to say that Jones told her he killed and raped Mollie.

The defense claims that the prosecution's failure to turn over reports involving trap houses and kidnappings is a due process violation.

Defense lawyers asked for any evidence of investigations into Lowe since Tibbetts went missing, but Yates said the defense did not adequately prove the new information would be relevant to the case.

"Counsel for the defense have asserted there is a connection between James Lowe and Gavin Jones, but this point has not been articulated by any witness or piece of evidence," he wrote. "A motion for a new trial is not an opportunity for the defendant to investigate third parties unassociated with this case."

Judge Yates did not rule on Bahena Rivera's request for a new trial. A hearing on that motion is scheduled for July 27.

You can read Judge Yates' full ruling here:

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Daniel Perreault

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