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Court hears arguments on motion for new trial in Cristhian Bahena Rivera case

The defense wrapped up their arguments Tuesday, with Judge Joel Yates reiterating that a connection to the death of Mollie Tibbetts needed to be made.

MONTEZUMA, Iowa — Cristhian Bahena Rivera, the man convicted of murdering 20-year-old University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts, was back in court Tuesday.

His attorneys filed a motion for new trial, claiming a jail inmate has knowledge about another individual responsible for Tibbetts' killing.

Judge Joel Yates already denied a second pre-sentencing motion regarding an alleged sex trafficking ring in the area her body was found.

Prosecutors asked the court to nullify several subpoenas before Tuesday's 9 hearing, calling them "overbroad and not related" to the case."

"This subpoena and any similar subpoenas are overbroad and not related to this case," the state said in court documents. "The requests may also include otherwise privileged or sensitive law enforcement information relating to on-going investigations."

Bahena Rivera's defense team issued subpoenas for information from the Mahaska County Sheriff's Office surrounding alleged sex trafficking, including information about witnesses, victims or suspects from Jan. 1, 2018, to the present.

Scroll down to see real-time updates from the courtroom

During Tuesday's hearing, the court heard from Arne Maki, who claims a fellow jail inmate confessed to killing Tibbetts.

It was media coverage, Maki says, that helped him connect the dots.

"First [video] was with the defendant. They were saying that he had a family ... and had no criminal record," he said. "And the second clip showed him, said that he didn't kill her, and that he was set up by two men. And right there I told myself, my conscious told me 'I should say something.'"

Other witnesses testified to details of drug and sex trafficking investigations the past few years, with the defense and prosecution sparring over relevancy to the case at hand. 

"I want to get to where we need to go with this, and that is what we're here on, and I'm not finding it," Yates said. "I would just again remind the defense, who were here on ... new trial in the rivera case ... so, develop this but we need to get back to that."

The defense needed to accomplish four things today in order to receive a new trial, including if the evidence is newly discovered and relevant.

"There's no evidence the defense has given the court, either in a pleading, or anything that is involved in sex trafficking," Assistant Attorney Scott Brown said. "The investigation they keep referring to in Mahaska County, he wasn't even charged with anything relating to sex trafficking."

Tibbetts disappeared while on a run in her hometown of Brooklyn in July 2018. Her body was discovered a month later.

Bahena Rivera took the stand in his own defense during the murder trial, claiming two masked men forced him into putting Tibbetts' body in the trunk of his car.

A Scott County jury convicted him of first-degree murder on May 28.

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Watch the hearing on YouTube

Tuesday, July 27

1:10 p.m.

Court is back in session.

Next up is a deputy from the Iowa Cunty Sheriff's Office. He followed a vehicle connected to James Lowe regarding the disappearance of Xavior Harrelson. Lowe at some point flees on foot. Located an hour later.

After that, defense rests and judge says he will issue written ruling as soon as he can.

11:43 a.m.

James Lowe never charged in relation to woman's report. Johnston agrees there was not enough credible evidence of sex trafficking/crimes.

11:37 a.m.

Woman's sex trafficking report involves meeting James Lowe at a gas station in Brooklyn, Iowa. Says he bought her some gas, followed him to the New Sharon house. 

Claims she was shot up with drugs by James Lowe, kept there and couldn't leave.

Johnston calls the woman "a willing participant" in going to the house, drug use and not an abduction like Mollie Tibbetts. 

11:24 a.m.

Johnston investigated report of a young woman picked up along the highway, claiming she had been sex trafficked out of a home in New Sharon.

11:16 a.m.

Defense calls Ben Johnston. Works for Mahaska County Sheriff's Office, narcotics division. 

Johnston says James Lowe is known to law enforcement as being involved in drug trafficking. Lowe once dated Xavior's mother and still had contact with Xavior.  

11:08 a.m.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown objecting to nearly every question, based on relevance to the Mollie Tibbetts case. 

Judge reminding defense we are here on the Mollie Tibbetts case, not Xavior Harrelson's.

Judge getting impatient: "Ms. Frese, I want to get where we need to go on this. We are spending too much time on Xavior Harrelson than we are on this case. I want to get there." 

11:05 a.m.

Defense calls a woman named Samantha, who is wearing a Xavior Harrelson button. Says her son is Xavior’s best friend. 

She reported Xavior missing nearly two months ago now. 

11:00 a.m.

Defense bringing Ron Pexa back up, implying he was the Tama County law enforcement officer who was in on the sex trafficking. Pexa's name was mentioned often during trial. Lived near location where Mollie's body was found. 

10:52 a.m.

Agent Vileta says he never heard the names brought up in court today until two weeks ago. Were never part of the Mollie Tibbetts investigation.

"Cristhian Rivera killed Mollie Tibbetts," he adds.

10:49 a.m.

On cross, Brown questioning Vileta about the trial evidence that connected Cristhian Bahena Rivera to the murder: his car on video, blood in trunk, confession that led to Mollie's body.  

10:40 a.m.

Court is back in session, with Agent Vileta back on the stand.

Jennifer Frese: "What is a search warrant?" 

Agent Vileta: Repeats question, says "Wow", exasperated. And then answers.

10:25 a.m.

Court is in recess for 15 minutes.

10:21 a.m.

Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown objecting to questioning about a sex trafficking tip out of Indiana: "This is a waste of time."

10:16 a.m.

Getting tense between defense attorney Jennifer Frese and Agent Vileta. Calls the allegations of sex trafficking "baseless".

Defense says they are here to show Mollie Tibbetts link to sex trafficking. Judge quips, "Go ahead and get there."  

10:14 a.m.

Another agent interviewed Mollie's friend, who "speculated" that she could have been the victim of sex trafficking. Agent Vileta says there was a lot of chatter because no one knew, lot of fears.  

10:01 a.m.

Defense now calling DCI Agent Trent Vileta. Testified at length at trial. Special Agent in charge of Mollie Tibbetts' disappearance and murder.

Agent Vileta says he can't recall specific tips that Mollie was the victim of sex trafficking.

9:55 a.m.

Defense offers several affidavits as part of the record, though Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown says he hasn't seen or reviewed them.

9:51 a.m.

Maki says Jones claimed Mollie's body had been "cut up". Klaver points out that based on trial evidence, that's not true.

Judge excused Maki, who quickly said into the mic "just want to say my thoughts and prayers are with the Tibbetts family."  

9:47 a.m.

On cross, Poweshiek County Attorney Bart Klaver asks Maki if he knew that Gavin Jones was in a rehab facility in July 2018, then went to another set up under supervision. Seems to imply that Jones couldn't be involved in trap houses at the time Mollie Tibbetts disappeared.

9:42 a.m.

Maki says he gets nothing out of testifying today. No early release, money, promises, deals. 'Wanted to do the right thing" by testifying here.

9:38 a.m.

Maki: Gavin Jones explained the concept of sex trafficking, how it worked, trap houses. Jones claimed Tama police were in on it. 

9:34 a.m.

Maki says he felt bad for Jones, "a young kid [21 years old] who needed some direction". They spoke about Mollie Tibbetts: "Yeah I killed her. The guy being charged for it right now, we set him up. A sex trafficking case gone wrong".

Jones says he didn't believe it.

9:30 a.m.

Maki served some time in Keokuk County Jail last summer, where he met Gavin Jones. Maki gave him $70 out of his inmate account to help him make bail.  

9:21 a.m.

Defense calls Arne Maki. Serving time for domestic violence. Getting out in December. He’s the inmate who came forward after Rivera testified at trial. 

9:15 a.m.

On cross-examination, Meyer tells Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown the man has called in multiple times to report harassment. Nobody in law enforcement met with him, but they did talk over the phone.

9:10 a.m.

Defense calls Deputy Joseph Meyer with the Poweshiek County Sheriff's Office. He's been there for about eight years.

He says a report was made last evening (Monday) by an individual who was complaining that people were calling him names he didn't like. The individual is a sex offender and was apparently being harassed.

The person harassing him was Sarah, Xavior Harrelson's mother. 

9:08 a.m.

Court is now in session. Bahena Rivera is in the courtroom with his attorneys.

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