Nearly three years after discovering her 6-year-old daughter raped and murdered in her mattress, Stephanie Romeo recalled the harrowing moments that led as much as her realization her daughter was gone.
Testifying through the first day of trial in opposition to the person accused of the August 2018 killing, Romeo mentioned she had no thought something was amiss at first, based on the Albuquerque Journal. She climbed proper into mattress at her suburban Albuquerque residence after coming residence late from work and slept beside her daughter, Ariana Jade Romeo, unaware at the moment that the soon-to-be-first-grader’s physique was already chilly.
The subsequent morning, she mentioned, she understood one thing was mistaken.
“I started to say, ‘Crazy girl, what are you still doing asleep?’ I got home at 4, you know. And I realized she was in the same position as when I got home,” Romeo informed a New Mexico court docket on Wednesday. “And I knew right then. So I took the blanket off her and her legs were purple, and I knew she was dead.”
The 6-year-old lady was already chilly to the contact by that point, wrapped tightly in a blanket, and was discovered to have blood close to her buttocks, based on testimony. Her time of loss of life was estimated to be round 10 p.m. the evening earlier than, hours earlier than her mom crawled into mattress together with her.
She had suffered a number of accidents, together with these according to sexual assault, and was discovered to have died of strangulation. Blood spatter was reportedly discovered on the mattress, and a Playboy journal alongside it.
Leland Hust, a 24-year-old man who’d been dwelling within the Rio Rancho residence with Stephanie and Ariana Romeo, is charged within the lady’s loss of life. Court paperwork present Hust informed investigators he’d put a film on for the lady after which gone to sleep that evening.
Hust, who was 21 on the time of the killing, has denied having something to do with Ariana’s loss of life and informed investigators he thought of her as a sister.
His attorneys portrayed him to the jury on Wednesday as a younger man who’d been railroaded by police and tricked into incriminating himself.
“This is a murky case based on insufficient investigation,” protection lawyer Michael Rosenfield mentioned in his opening assertion.
Prosecutors say a vaginal swab turned up DNA proof that proves Hust’s guilt, they usually burdened that the case was investigated totally for 2 months earlier than Hust was even deemed a suspect.
With the 6-year-old lady’s mom at work that evening, Assistant District Attorney Jannette Mondragón mentioned, Hust “had an opportunity that night, and he took it.”
But Rosenfield informed jurors investigators did a quantity on Hust, who he described as “vulnerable” throughout a two-hour interview with police two months after Ariana was discovered slain.
Hust solely started to present incriminating statements after investigators performed thoughts video games with him, Rosenfield mentioned, exaggerating the quantity and significance of DNA proof they mentioned tied the 21-year-old to the crime.
Hust was “made to believe that his DNA was found in quantity sufficient to convict him,” Rosenfield mentioned, arguing that the quantity of DNA discovered within the vaginal swab might be simply defined in consequence of Hust and the lady dwelling in the identical residence and utilizing the identical furnishings.
Several different individuals lived within the residence the place the 6-year-old was killed, and Rosenfield signaled on Wednesday that the protection would increase questions on whether or not police ignored different suspects within the case. He mentioned a DNA skilled would take the stand to testify about DNA discovered on the swab from one other man.
Prior to prices being filed in opposition to Hust in October 2018, sexual abuse allegations surfaced in opposition to one other man who’d lived in the home with the Romeos, Winston Scates Sr. The 63-year-old reportedly admitted to investigators that he had molested two underage family years earlier, although he was finally solely charged with one depend of legal sexual contact with a minor.
The trial in opposition to Hust is anticipated to final about 10 days.