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Bahena Defense Attorneys Suggest Tibbetts Murder May Be Linked to Case of Missing Montezuma boy

FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2018, file photo, a poster for missing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts hangs in the window of a local business in Brooklyn, Iowa. Cristhian Bahena Rivera was convicted of first-degree murder in the July 2018 stabbing death of 20-year-old Mollie Tibbetts. Judge Joel Yates has granted a defense motion for an inmate at an Iowa prison, to testify at Rivera's sentencing hearing at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

(Radio Iowa) A judge says he’ll rule by Friday on whether the defense attorneys for the man convicted of murdering Mollie Tibbetts should have access to state investigation records in other cases. The attorneys for Cristhian Bahena Rivera say they learned hours after a jury convicted Bahena that another man was claiming he killed Tibbetts. Attorney Jennifer Frese suggests there may be a link with the case of a missing 11-year-old boy from Montezuma.

“Three people have vanished out of thin air in this small rural county: Mollie Tibbetts, Xavior Harrelson and the woman that reported being abducted in May of 2018 and being sex trafficked,” Frese said. Scott Brown, the lead prosecutor on the case, says Bahena’s attorneys are on a fishing expedition.

“This whole issue that they raised with Xavior Harrelson. That is a pending investigation. The fact that they would put this information in a public document, which we did try to get ahead of, is unconscionable in my mind.” Brown says he offered to stop the trial in May after learning two people had claimed to have heard another man confess he was the one who killed Tibbetts, but Bahena’s attorneys declined. Brown says the account Bahena’s lawyers presented in court today was confusing.

“No evidence supports it. None,” Brown said “Zero!” Bahena was to be sentenced today (Thursday), but the trial judge granted a delay to consider the request to pursue new leads in the case. Chad Frese, one of Bahena’s attorneys, suggests prosecutors sat on information about a woman who says she was kidnapped in Brooklyn two months before Tibbetts was abducted.

“There’s evidence here that 10 kids in this area have gone missing. We’ve provided that,” Frese said. “There’s something rotten in this area.” After today’s (Thursday’s) hearing, Frese told reporters it’s no coincidence that 11-year-old Xavior Harrelson disappeared near the end of Bahena’s trial.

“The facts are so in line with one another through what Cristhian has said since day one, through what witnesses are now saying,” Frese said. “It just lines up perfectly.” A hearing is tentatively scheduled for July 27th to consider defense motions for a new trial. Frese says new information indicates two jail inmates and a house in New Sharon that was allegedly used for drug deals and sex trafficking at the time of Tibbetts’ death are connected.

“We had people come forward and give us information…We have people out there helping us…They learned that James Lowe, at one point, was residing with Xavior Harrelson’s mother,” Frese told reporters. “…We were able to corroborate that with court filings, things of that nature.” Frese asked the judge to order state officials to give Bahena’s defense team records of several other investigations that could be connected to Tibetts’ disappearance. Prosecutor Scott Brown blasted Frese for revealing details of the state’s on-going investigation of Harrelson’s disappearance in open court.
If they want to go knock themselves out trying to find out all of this confusing information that’s just been presented to the court, go right ahead and do it,” Brown said, “but there is nothing in the rules, nothing in the case law that compels the state to chase its tail because they’re asking us to do it.” On May 28th, a jury found Bahena guilty of first degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
(Joe Lancello, KBOE, Oskaloosa)

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