Mollie Tibbetts murder: Defense says death linked to sex trafficking ring in hearing for new trial

The lead investigator into the 2018 death of the University of Iowa student expressed confidence that Cristhian Bahena Rivera killed Tibbetts during hours of testimony in which defense lawyers tried to link the death to a report by a woman who claimed she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted and the disappearance of an 11-year-old boy in the same county. 

Division of Criminal Investigation agent Trent Vileta said that had they known, detectives searching for Tibbetts in 2018 would have looked into another woman’s claim that she’d been lured by a man from Tibbetts’ small hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa, weeks earlier and held in a nearby home for sex trafficking.

The complaint did not lead to criminal charges and Vileta said the evidence in Tibbetts’ death pointed to Bahena Rivera, a local farmhand. Bahena Rivera partially confessed to stalking Tibbetts while she was out for a run, killing her and dumping her body in a cornfield. He led investigators to the location following an interrogation in August 2018. 

MOLLIE TIBBETTS MURDER TRIAL: JURY FINDS CHRISTIAN BAHENA RIVERA GUILTY

“Cristhian Rivera murdered Mollie Tibbetts,” Vileta testified.

A 50-year-old suspected methamphetamine dealer has been investigated in the case regarding the woman and young boy but hasn’t been charged in either, and prosecutors said he has no ties to Tibbetts at all.

During hours of testimony, prosecutors repeatedly objected to the line of questioning by the defense, saying there was no relevance. Yates told Bahena Rivera’s lawyers at times that he was having trouble seeing any relevance to the case against their client.

Bahena Rivera, who illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico as a teenager, was convicted of Tibbetts death following a two-week trial in May. He claimed two masked men kidnapped him at gunpoint and forced him to drive where Tibbetts was running on a rural road. He said they killed her and put her body in the trunk of his car and made him dispose of her. 

He didn’t tell investigators about the men earlier in the inquiry because they threatened to kill his girlfriend and young daughter, he said. 

Cristhian Bahena Rivera appears during a hearing at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa. Bahena Rivera was convicted of killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts in 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette, Pool, File)

Cristhian Bahena Rivera appears during a hearing at the Poweshiek County Courthouse in Montezuma, Iowa. Bahena Rivera was convicted of killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts in 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette, Pool, File)

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