Judge denies motion for mistrial in trial over death of Mollie Tibbetts

The defense for Cristhian Bahena Rivera, found guilty of first-degree murder, filed a motion for mistrial after learning a state’s witness viewed the trial’s livestream.

Cristhian+Bahena+Rivera+testifies+from+the+witness+stand%2C+on+Wednesday%2C+May+26%2C+2021%2C+in+the+Scott+County+Courthouse%2C+in+Davenport%2C+Iowa.+Bahena+Rivera+is+on+trial+after+being+charged+with+first+degree+murder+in+the+death+of+Mollie+Tibbetts+in+July+2018.+%28Pool+Photo%2FKelsey+Kremer%2FDes+Moines+Register%29

Kelsey Kremer

Cristhian Bahena Rivera testifies from the witness stand, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, in the Scott County Courthouse, in Davenport, Iowa. Bahena Rivera is on trial after being charged with first degree murder in the death of Mollie Tibbetts in July 2018. (Pool Photo/Kelsey Kremer/Des Moines Register)

Rachel Schilke, Summer Editor


The court presiding over the trial for the death of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts denied a motion for mistrial filed by the defense for Cristhian Bahena Rivera.

Bahena Rivera, 24, was found guilty of first-degree murder after a 10-day trial beginning May 17. Tibbetts, who went missing in July 2018, died from multiple stab wounds.

On May 28, defense attorneys Chad and Jennifer Frese filed a motion for mistrial on behalf of Bahena Rivera after learning that a witness for the state viewed a livestream of the trial. It is unknown whether this happened prior to or after testifying.

According to a court order, the court was informed of this on May 20 and relayed the information to the defense, prosecutor and Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown, and Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver outside the presence of the jury.

After consulting with his counsel, Bahena Rivera motioned for a mistrial. The court gave an oral ruling denying the motion and a written ruling was released on June 4, stating that since no formal sequestration of witnesses was ever requested, the witness did not violate any court mandate.

According to Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.156, a party or the court itself may request that witnesses be sequestered so they cannot hear other witnesses’ testimonies. However, neither party, nor the court, made that request, the court order said.

“Mistrial may be granted only when the matter forbidden is so prejudicial that its effect upon the jury could not be erased by the trial court’s admonition,” the court order said.

The court ruled that since the defense did not provide evidence of serious prejudice, a mistrial was “improper and unwarranted in this situation.”

Sentencing for Bahena Rivera will take place on July 15 in Montezuma, Iowa. There will be no bond pending sentencing, according to Judge Joel Yates.

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