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Suspect in NYC ‘Baby Hope’ death says not guilty

November 22, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — The suspect in a child killing that puzzled investigators for two decades told a series of stories about his involvement before eventually admitting he sexually abused and smothered the 4-year-old girl, a prosecutor said Thursday.

But Conrado Juarez pleaded not guilty to murder in the death of the child long known only as “Baby Hope.”

“This alleged confession is completely suspect,” his attorney, Michael Croce, said.

Juarez, a 52-year-old kitchen worker, was arrested last month.

Naked and tied with rope, the girl’s body was found in a cooler beside a Manhattan highway in 1991. There was semen on her body, Assistant District Attorney Melissa Mourges told a judge.

Until recently, detectives didn’t even know the girl’s name. They nicknamed her “Baby Hope” and paid for her headstone — a marker that finally was engraved with her name, Anjelica Castillo, last week.

An appeal for tips on the anniversary of her discovery led investigators to her mother, who had left Anjelica and another daughter with their biological father. He deposited them with his relatives. Juarez, a cousin, was staying in the same apartment, authorities said.

“What is this about?” he asked a detective who came to see him Oct. 11, according to a prosecution document released Thursday.

Over the next 14 hours, Juarez first told detectives he helped his sister dispose of the cooler, unaware of what was inside, according to Mourges and a prosecution document summarizing his remarks.

Then Juarez recounted finding Anjelica dead on the floor, packing her body into the cooler, piling soda cans on top to try to conceal the body and helping his sister drop it by the highway, the authorities said.

Later, Juarez recounted sexually abusing the child while drunk but said that was unrelated to her death, they said.

“Finally, he admitted that he had sex with the victim and killed her by smothering her with a pillow,” Mourges said.

The DA’s office didn’t release Juarez’ eventual written and videotaped statements.

Juarez’ lawyer suggested the interrogation was “coercive,” noting its length.

Croce declined to describe Juarez’ own version of events.

Police and prosecutors have expressed confidence in the confession. Prosecutors are awaiting DNA test results, Mourges said.

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