(NEW YORK) — With his sentencing hearing just days away, the man convicted of murdering Mollie Tibbetts is asking for a new trial, claiming he was unwittingly framed by the real killer who he claims confessed to the crime.
Attorneys for Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a Mexican national, filed a motion asking that the jury verdict in the case be set aside based on the new evidence they received from prosecutors following the trial.
The 26-year-old Bahena Rivera is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday and is expected to receive a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
But he claims the real killer confessed to at least two people that he and a sex trafficker fatally stabbed the 20-year-old University of Iowa student.
Bahena Rivera’s attorneys, husband-and-wife team Chad and Jennifer Frese, wrote in a motion filed on Friday that two people, unbeknownst to each other, came forward on May 26 — the day Bahena Rivera testified in his own defense — and identified by name a man they claim confessed to them on separate occasions that he participated in Tibbetts’ 2018 slaying.
“That Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbett, because I raped her and killed her,” the man, whose name has not been released, allegedly told one of the two witnesses, according to documents filed in the Poweshiek County, Iowa, district court.
Prosecutors from the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, according to the defense motion, informed Bahena Rivera’s attorneys about the alleged confessions after prosecturors received word from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation that an inmate had come to a chaplain and later an assistant warden claiming that another inmate, whose name has not been released, told him he and a 50-year-old sex trafficker killed Tibbetts after her disappearance garnered national attention.
The inmate purportedly claimed he first saw Tibbetts bound and gagged at a sex-trafficking “trap house” owned by his alleged accomplice. He claimed, according to the defense motion, his alleged accomplice grew worried after federal authorities searching for Tibbetts showed up at a house next door to his.
The inmate allegedly claimed his accomplice devised a plan for them to stab Tibbetts and “dump her body near a Hispanic male in order to make it appear that the Hispanic male committed the crime.”
“It was reported that this Department of Corrections inmate was coming forward at this time because he had heard the testimony of Cristhian Bahena Rivera on television, and it was at that point, he realized that the information given him by this other individual was likely true,” the defense’s motion for a new trial reads.
A second individual contacted the Mahaska County, Iowa, Sheriff’s Office with a similar story involving the same inmate who reportedly confessed, but deputies said the witness appeared to be under the influence and dismissed the story as not being credible.
In his testimony during the trial, Bahena Rivera claimed he was kidnapped at his home near Brooklyn, Iowa, by two armed masked men, who ordered him to drive to where Tibbetts was expected to be jogging. He claimed that when they found Tibbetts, one of the men stabbed her to death, put her body in the trunk of Bahena Rivera’s car and made him drive to a cornfield, where the young woman’s badly decomposed remains were discovered a month after she went missing.
Bahena Rivera said that while he placed Tibbetts’ body in the cornfield, he did not kill her.
His stint on the witness stand came after homicide investigators testified that Bahena Rivera confessed to killing Tibbetts after he spotted her jogging and she rebuffed his advances. Prosecutors also presented surveillance video evidence showing Bahena Rivera’s black Chevrolet Malibu circling the area Tibbetts was jogging in around the time she went missing on July 18, 2018.
In his closing argument, prosecutor Scott Brown dismissed Bahena Rivera’s testimony as a “figment of his imagination.”
Bahena Rivera claimed during his testimony that he didn’t tell investigators about the masked men because they threatened to harm his former girlfriend, the mother of his daughter, if he did
The jury in the case deliberated for seven hours over two days before unanimously finding Bahena Rivera guilty of first-degree murder.
A spokesperson for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office declined to comment Tuesday but told ABC News that prosecutors plan to file a response to the defense’s motion for a new trial either Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday.
Bahena Rivera’s defense attorneys also filed court papers asking that an inmate at Iowa’s Mount Pleasant Correctional Facility be brought to the Poweshiek County courthouse on the day of Bahena Rivera’s sentencing hearing. The document does not say if the inmate is one of the people who came forward with the new claims.
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