Judge denies defense’s motion to compel in Rivera trial

Judge Joel Yates denied the defense’s request for the state to provide information regarding an alleged sex trafficker, who the defense claim might be connected to Mollie Tibbetts’ murder.


Cristhian Bahena Rivera leaves the courtroom after a hearing for the defense’s motion to compel on July 15, 2021. The judge denied the motion on July 16. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Rachel Schilke, Summer Editor

Judge Joel Yates denied the defense for Cristhian Bahena Rivera’s Motion to Compel evidence on Friday, stating their request for information is too broad and lacks a substantial connection to Mollie Tibbetts’ murder. 

Defense attorneys for Bahena Rivera, convicted of first-degree murder on May 28 in the abduction and fatal stabbing of Tibbetts, filed multiple motions in addition to the Motion to Compel, including a Motion in Arrest of Judgment and a Motion for a New Trial.

After his conviction, the defense learned that Keokuk County inmate Arne Maki came forward with information that Gavin Jones, a former cellmate of his, confessed to him that he killed Tibbetts. 

Jones allegedly told Maki that he saw Tibbetts in a sex trafficking “trap house” owned by James Lowe, who allegedly was running a sex trafficking ring in Mahaska County in the months leading up to and during Tibbetts’ disappearance. 

Allegedly, Jones said Tibbetts was bound and gagged when he saw her. When her disappearance gained national attention too quickly, Lowe claimed to have asked Jones and another individual to help murder Tibbetts and allegedly pin it on Bahena Rivera.

Jones’ girlfriend at the time, Lyndsey Voss, also came forward with corroborating information that Jones allegedly had held a gun to her head and told her that Bahena Rivera should not be in jail because he murdered Tibbetts.

As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, the court held a hearing for a motion to compel on Thursday. Defense attorney Jennifer Frese asked the judge that the state be compelled to provide any information related to sex trafficking investigations in the area, whether Lowe is involved or not; pending investigations of Lowe; and pending investigations regarding Jones.

Yates wrote in his decision on Friday that the request asking for information on sex trafficking investigations is too broad and is “lacking a nexus to the defendant,” and requesting information on Lowe specifically fails to establish a connection to Bahena Rivera.

“Those investigations are likely to contain confidential information about a variety of people, and Defendant’s examination of those investigations would be nothing more than a fishing expedition,” Yates wrote.

He added that since the defense has indicated Jones’ confession is in their possession as evidence, it does not have authority to ask the state to provide any investigations related to him.

The hearing for the defense’s Motion for a New Trial and Motion in Arrest of Judgment is on July 27 at 9:30 a.m.

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