The man convicted of murdering University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts will not face sentencing this week, a judge ruled Wednesday — after defense attorneys accused prosecutors of withholding evidence about a nearby sex trafficking “trap house” and other potential suspects.
Cristhian Bahena Rivera was expected to be sentenced to life in prison Thursday after he was convicted in May of murdering Tibbetts in summer 2018 and dumping her body in a cornfield.
Instead, Judge Joel Yates will hold a hearing on a motion for a new trial after defense lawyers accused prosecutors of failing to disclose a sex trafficking investigation near where the 20-year-old disappeared, according to ABC News.
The shocking turn of events came a week after defense attorneys asked for a new trial, claiming witnesses independently told police a man bragged to them about raping and murdering the college student and framing Bahena Rivera, the network reported.
Bahena Rivera, a 27-year-old Mexican national who worked as a farmhand, had testified he was kidnapped by two masked men who forced him into being an accomplice to their murder.
The judge’s scheduling reversal came as defense attorneys filed documents alleging that prosecutors did not reveal cops were investigating a sex trafficking “trap house” in New Sharon, Iowa, some 27 miles from where Tibbetts vanished, according to the report.
The 50-year-old suspect in that case once lived with the mother of 11-year-old Xavior Harrelson, who disappeared from a trailer park the day before Bahena Rivera was found guilty, the article said.
Defense lawyers reportedly also found that at least 10 other children were recently reported missing in the county where Tibbetts’ body was dumped.
Last week, defense attorneys told the judge that two new witnesses came to police in May and independently spoke to a man who claimed he and a 50-year-old sex trafficker killed the student and framed the defendant, according to the report.
“That Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie Tibbetts, because I raped her and killed her,” one witness reportedly told police the supposed real killer told him while they were in jail, ABC reported.
The new witness said the man told him he first saw Tibbetts bound and gagged at the “trap house” owned by the unnamed 50-year-old, the outlet reported.
Another witness told sheriff’s a similar story about the same supposed real killer, but cops said the witness was intoxicated and not credible, according to the article.
Both new witnesses reportedly contacted cops on the day Bahena Rivera testified he was kidnapped by two masked men who forced him to drive to where they said Tibbetts would be jogging.
The farmhand said when they found the student, one of the men stabbed her to death and made him drive the body to a cornfield and dump the body.
Bahena Rivera, an undocumented immigrant, claimed he was not involved in the murder, and did not go to police because the masked men threatened to kill his daughter’s mother.
The case was championed by former President Trump as evidence the US needed tighter border security.