Judge takes no action in attorneys' dispute over Mollie Tibbetts' non-existent banking records

Defense lawyers in murder case won't be admonished over subpoena issue

Cristhian Bahena Rivera appears for an evidence suppression hearing at the Poweshiek County Courthouse on Nov. 13, 2019,
Cristhian Bahena Rivera appears for an evidence suppression hearing at the Poweshiek County Courthouse on Nov. 13, 2019, in Montezuma. He is charged with first-degree murder in the 2018 death of University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts. (Brian Powers/Des Moines Register)

MONTEZUMA — A judge decided not to take any action on last week’s arguments over subpoenas being improperly filed by the defense for the man charged with killing University of Iowa student Mollie Tibbetts in 2018.

The prosecution asked the judge to quash a subpoena for Tibbetts’ bank account at Bankers Trust in Des Moines. They argued the defense didn’t give prosecutors notice and that this type of subpoena isn’t allowed because it isn’t connected to a deposition or trial.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown also asked the court to admonish the attorneys for first-degree murder defendant Cristhian Bahena Rivera. He questioned whether Jennifer and Chad Frese understood the rules.

Eighth Judicial District Judge Joel Yates, in his ruling, found the motion moot because the bank account didn’t exist. The defense revealed that fact during the hearing. Jennifer Frese said the lack of notification was just a “clerical oversight” and the prosecution received the notice after the fact.

“The court declines to issue an admonishment in this situation,” Yates said in the ruling. “However, the court relies upon the statements from counsel and expects the parties to follow our procedural rules.”

During last week’s hearing, Frese didn’t explain why they sought Tibbetts’ banking records, but in her written argument said they were following up on an investigation started by the state into Tibbetts’ bank records.

A tip was made to law enforcement Aug. 1, 2018, from a bank employee that Tibbetts had set up a bank account just before her death, Frese said. There also was information that a transaction was made on the account at a tattoo shop after her death, according to her written argument.


Frese said law enforcement didn’t follow up, so they were trying to “fill the holes in.” She didn’t provide further details to protect their trial strategy, she said.

Bahena Rivera, 26, a Mexican national living illegally in the United States, is accused of fatally stabbing 20-year-old Tibbetts, who went missing July 18, 2018, while jogging in her hometown of Brooklyn, Iowa.

Her body was found Aug. 21, 2018, in a cornfield where Bahena Rivera led authorities.

Bahena Rivera’s trial is set for May 17.

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