Mollie Tibbetts murder: Police find no link between Iowa student and 11-year-old's disappearance

by 24USATVJuly 21, 2021, 9 p.m. 17
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Iowa investigators see no link between the recent disappearance of 11-year-old Xavior Harrelson and the 2018 death of Mollie Tibbetts, for which Cristhian Bahena Rivera was convicted of murder in May.

Harrelson disappeared from a trailer park in Montezuma on May 27, one day before Bahena Rivera was found guilty by a jury.

Bahena Rivera's defense team asked for a new trial earlier this month, saying that the former live-in boyfriend of Harrelson's mom, 50-year-old James Lowe, has allegedly been linked to sex trafficking in Iowa and could have something to do with Tibbetts' death and disappearance.

The attorneys contend that two new witnesses have recently come forward and blamed another 21-year-old man, Gavin Jones, for Tibbetts' murder, putting forth a theory that Tibbetts was allegedly kidnapped into a sex trafficking ring run by Lowe, who then allegedly ordered Jones and another man to kill Tibbetts.

Mitch Mortvedt, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, threw cold water on that theory this week, saying that there is no connection between the cases.

"We are confident in the investigation, prosecution and conviction of Rivera for the disappearance and homicide of Mollie Tibbetts and that he acted alone," Mortvedt told Fox News Wednesday.

Gavin Jones and the other man who Bahena Rivera's defense team named in the alleged plot to kill Tibbetts have also denied any involvement.

"I wasn’t involved in anything," Jones told the Associated Press. "I have alibis and everything. I am just waiting for someone to come talk to me."

Bahena Rivera, a 27-year-old Mexican national who came to the United States illegally as a teenager, was convicted in May of murdering Tibbetts. He made the surprising testimony during his trial that two masked men actually stabbed Tibbetts to death then forced him to dispose of her body.

His defense attorneys claimed just days before he was set to be sentenced that the new witnesses and evidence could corroborate their client's claims.

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Judge Joel Yates denied the defense's request to compel the state to turn over evidence of any investigations into Jones and Lowe, though, saying that the defense's "examination of those investigations would be nothing more than a fishing expedition."

"Counsel for Defendant have asserted there is a connection between James Lowe and Gavin Jones, but this point has not been articulated by any witness or piece of evidence," Judge Yates wrote Friday.

A hearing on the motion for a new trial will be held on July 27. Bahena Rivera's sentencing has not yet been rescheduled.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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