Authorities in New Mexico arrested a young man accused of raping and murdering six-year-old Ariana ‘Jade’ Romeo, whose body was found almost two months ago on an improvised mattress in a house in the city of Rio Rancho, where she and her mother were staying.
Leland Hust, 21, entered Friday night at the Sandoval County jail. The young man faces charges of sexual abuse resulting in the death of a minor and criminal sexual penetration. Both crimes carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
They also detained the owner of the house where the girl was murdered. Winston Scates Sr, 63, has been charged with criminal sexual contact against a minor. Detectives believe that this man sexually abused at least two children, although these cases are not related to the death of Ariana.
The investigation began on August 11, when officers from the Rio Rancho Police Department went to a house in the 200 block of Moonstone Drive, near Highway 528, because Ariana’s mother reported to the 911 service that she had found her daughter unconscious. in the garage of the house.
According to the police report, the girl died at the scene and had “damage” to her genitals. The result of the autopsy has not been published, determining the cause of death.
The detectives found the girl lying on an improvised mattress. Beside her were a towel with blood, tissues, a princess pillow and a Playboy magazine. Outside the house, among the trash, they found a rope and male underwear.
At a press conference on Friday night, Rio Rancho Police Capt. Ron Vigil said investigators took nearly two months to gather evidence against Hust, including DNA samples that linked him to the killing. The officer did not clarify if the young man has confessed the crime.
“DNA is an element of this investigation,” Captain Vigil said, adding that detectives also found evidence against Hust through interviews with people who were in the house when the girl was killed.
For his part, Rio Rancho Police Chief Stewart Steele said at the conference that the charges against the suspect are the result of a “very thorough investigation.”
“We recognize that the community has been passionate about this incident involving an innocent 6-year-old girl. We want the community to know that we are also passionate about justice for Ariana, “said the police chief. “Our officers and detectives, many of whom have children, have been deeply affected by the death of Ariana,” he added.
If Hust is found guilty he would spend the rest of his life in jail, Steele said. “Unfortunately we have identified other minor victims,” Vigil said. “They are separate and distinct investigations. We have analyzed not only the oldest cases but the new accusations, “he added.
The police said that several people lived in the house of Scates, but did not clarify what is their relationship with Hust, the mother of Ariana and the other residents. The press reported that in 2011 Hust was reported as missing and that the house was registered as his permanent address.
Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of Albuquerque and the New Mexico State Police collaborated in the investigation into the death of Ariana. The investigation is still in the preliminary stage.
Regarding the accusation against Scates, the owner of the house, Captain Vigil mentioned that during the investigation the detectives discovered that at least two children had been sexually assaulted by the man. No details have been published about these alleged abuses.