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Request for new trial in Mollie Tibbetts' murder is rejected

A judge dismissed the claim that newly discovered evidence implicated other alleged suspects in Tibbetts' 2018 murder.
Image: Cristhian Bahena Rivera
Cristhian Bahena Rivera appears during a hearing at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa, on July 15, 2021.Jim Slosiarek / Pool via The Gazette/AP file

An Iowa judge rejected a request Monday for a new trial from Cristhian Bahena Rivera, who was convicted this year of murdering University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.

In a 13-page decision, district court judge Joel D. Yates dismissed Bahena Rivera’s claim that newly discovered evidence implicated other alleged suspects in Tibbetts’ murder.

Yates said that evidence — which involved alleged confessions from one of the suspects — wasn’t new. Nor would it have changed the outcome of the trial, which ended May 28 with a jury convicting Bahena Rivera of first-degree murder, Yates ruled.

Yates also rejected other claims offered by Bahena Rivera’s lawyers, including that prosecutors suppressed evidence.

Tibbetts, 20, vanished July 18, 2018, while jogging in Brooklyn, Iowa. She was found nearly a month later, after Bahena Rivera led investigators to her body in a cornfield. She had been stabbed multiple times in the chest, neck, ribs and skull.

At trial, Bahena Rivera claimed that two masked men were responsible for the murder but forced him to participate at gunpoint.

The case vaulted into the political spotlight after then-President Donald Trump and other Republicans argued that Bahena Rivera, an undocumented laborer and Mexican national, had been able to kill Tibbetts because of lax immigration laws.

Tibbetts’ family criticized that argument, with her father saying that some had “chosen to callously distort and corrupt Mollie’s tragic death to advance a cause she vehemently opposed.”

Bahena Rivera's sentencing is set for Aug. 30.