‘They’ve got buyer’s remorse’: Prosecution, defense disagree on motion to compel in Rivera trial

The defense for Cristhian Bahena Rivera is asking the court for the state to provide information to serve as evidence in a possible new trial, but the prosecution says it is not authorized by the law to do so.

Cristhian+Bahena+Rivera+sits+beside+defense+attorney+Jennifer+Frese+as+she+explains+the+defense%27s+motion+to+compel+on+Thursday%2C+July+15%2C+2021.+A+hearing+on+the+motion+for+a+new+trial+will+be+July+22%2C+2021.+%28Jim+Slosiarek%2FThe+Gazette%29

Cristhian Bahena Rivera sits beside defense attorney Jennifer Frese as she explains the defense’s motion to compel on Thursday, July 15, 2021. A hearing on the motion for a new trial will be July 22, 2021. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Rachel Schilke, Summer Editor


MONTEZUMA – Despite the fact that sentencing was set for Thursday, the trial for Cristhian Bahena Rivera continues as both the prosecution and defense wait for the judge to decide on whether or not to accept the defense’s motion to compel.

Judge Joel Yates will make a decision on the defense’s request for the court to compel the state to provide evidence relating to new information brought forth on potential new suspects in the murder of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. 

If denied, defense attorney Chad Frese said the judge should expect a “flurry of subpoenas” to come from himself and Jennifer Frese, Bahena Rivera’s other attorney.

Bahena Rivera was convicted of Tibbetts’ murder on May 28. He testified on May 26 that he did not murder Tibbetts, and was instead forced by two masked men to transport her body after they killed her.

That same day, Keokuk County inmate Arne Maki came forward with information that Gavin Jones, a fellow inmate, had admitted to him that he and another individual murdered Tibbetts after seeing her in a “trap house” used for a sex trafficking ring ran by James Lowe, 50, New Sharon, Iowa.

During Thursday’s hearing, Jennifer Frese said Jones told Maki that the story involving Tibbetts had become “too big, too fast,” which is why Jones and another individual killed her.

“As the court is well aware, and as the evidence was produced at the trial, this case had national attention,” she said, “… that this woman presumably was out for a jog and was just snatched out of thin air.”

She said on May 26, the prosecution approached her and Chad Frese and only gave the information that an inmate was “running his mouth, and another inmate had said something,” so it was not presented as evidence. It was only after the trial, she said, when the defense learned of both Maki’s statements and statements made by Lyndsey Voss, Jones’ girlfriend.

Four hours after Maki interviewed with law enforcement on May 26, Voss said Jones had also told her that Bahena Rivera should not be in prison because he had killed Tibbetts. He had allegedly held a gun to her head when he told her this, according to court documents.

Jennifer Frese added that Lowe allegedly has been trafficking women out of a home in Mahaska County, Iowa. In May 2018 – two months prior to Tibbetts’ disappearance – Lowe abducted a woman at a Casey’s General Store in Brooklyn, Iowa, where Tibbetts lived and went missing.

Lowe is currently in custody on federal firearms charges, according to Frese. All of the information surrounding any investigation relating to sex trafficking during the time of Tibbetts’ disappearance, or any investigation of Lowe is exculpatory, Jennifer Frese said. She requested that the state be compelled to turn it over as evidence for a new trial, if granted.

Exculpatory information is information or evidence that increases a defendant’s probability of innocence, according to Cornell Law.

Lowe has also been allegedly connected in the disappearance of Xavior Harrelson, 10, who went missing in Poweshiek County on or around May 27. According to court documents, Lowe and Harrelson’s mother, Sarah, were living together for an extended period of time and had a relationship. 

Lowe is presumed to be one of the last people to see Xavior before he disappeared.

Chad Frese highlighted that Xavior and Tibbetts are just some of several individuals that went or currently are missing.

“Ten kids are missing. We’ve provided that,” Chad Frese said. “There is something rotten going on here. [The state] does not want to help us provide any information. It’s a small area. Ten kids are missing.”

Prosecutor Scott Brown, who represents the state with Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver, responded to Frese’s mention of Xavior with “wow.”

“This is a pending investigation. The fact that they would put this information in public documents…is unconscionable,” Brown said. “And now they want access to that. It’s a pending investigation; that cannot happen in this case. There is no connection between Xavior Harrelson and Mollie Tibbetts. Wow, is all I have to say with regard to their request to go down this road.”

Brown added that he disagreed with Jennifer Frese with the manner in which he told the defense about Maki’s information.

“We provided them enough detail that they knew,” Brown said. “Mr. Frese told me, in front of witnesses, that what we were telling them was inconsistent with what his client testified to. And that’s why we proceeded.” 

He said the prosecution offered to stop the trial to pursue Maki’s information, but the defense declined. 

“They’ve got buyer’s remorse,” Brown said. “… That was their choice, not ours. And you know what? I agree with Mr. Frese said back on May 26. It is inconsistent with what the defendant said. This motion that relates to another discovery and going on this specific fishing expedition on behalf of the defense is not authorized by the rules…and it should be denied in its entirety.”

Yates is expected to provide a written statement on his decision about the motion to compel by the end of the week. The hearing for the motion for a new trial will be held on July 22, in Montezuma, Iowa.

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