A judge in Iowa considered new motions Thursday filed by the defense for Cristhian Bahena Rivera, a Mexican national who was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts.
Tibbetts, 20, disappeared in July 2018 while on a run in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa. Bahena Rivera, 27, who came to the United States illegally as a teenager, led investigators to her body in a remote cornfield about a month after she vanished.
He was expected to get life without parole, but Judge Joel Yates delayed sentencing Wednesday after the defense came forward with two new witnesses. The defense motions requested a new trial and asked the judge to compel prosecutors to provide more information on other suspects investigated in the death of Mollie Tibbetts allegedly linked to a sex trafficking ring.
The defense's first new witness, an inmate at a county jail, told investigators that a fellow inmate, Gavin Jones, confessed to him that he and another man stabbed Tibbetts, and that Bahena Rivera was framed.
According to Bahena Rivera’s defense attorney, Jennifer Frese, Jones allegedly admitted he was involved with a "trap house" and Tibbetts was abducted for purposes of sex trafficking.
The second new witness, Jones' ex-girlfriend, told a local sheriff's office that she was in a car with Jones a month earlier when he said, "That Mexican shouldn’t be in jail for killing Mollie [Tibbetts] because I raped her and killed her," according to Iowa News Now.
In court on Thursday, Frese said the ex-girlfriend was granted a protective order against him after Jones allegedly held a gun to her head.
The defense also named a second suspect allegedly linked to Tibbetts’ murder. A search warrant from 2019 involving a man named James Lowe alleged he was sex trafficking women out of a home in Mahaska County, Iowa. Lowe is now in custody on federal gun charges.
A separate woman, whom the defense did not identify, alleged that she first met Lowe at a gas station in Brooklyn, Iowa – the town where Tibbetts was abducted. She was lured back to a residence after being promised gas money, drugged and prostituted on a nightly basis, Frese said.
The defense team implored the judge to force prosecutors to release information about the abduction of 11-year-old Xavior Harrelson, who allegedly disappeared from his home in Montezuma, Iowa, on May 27 and remains missing.
"Ten kids in this area have gone missing. We’ve provided that. There’s something rotten within this area," second defense attorney, Chad Frese, said in court, referring to Poweshiek County, where both Tibbetts and Harrelson went missing. "This is a small area. That’s not a coincidence."
Iowa Assistant Attorney General Scott Brown said it was "unconscionable" for the defense to attempt to link the boy’s disappearance to Tibbetts’ case, saying he would not release information about the investigation into Harrelson’s abduction because it remains active.
A motion hearing was set for July 27 to determine if there will be a new trial.
Bahena Rivera testified at trial in May that two masked men who actually killed Tibbetts forced him to drive them around and dispose of Tibbetts' body. Prosecutors dismissed Rivera's claims, but his defense attorneys now say that the two new witnesses support Bahena Rivera's story.
Fox News' Paul Best and Melissa Chrise contributed to this report, as well as The Associated Press.