The suspect in a decades-old child killing told investigators a series of stories about his involvement, first saying he unknowingly helping dispose of the little girl's body to eventually admitting he sexually abused and smothered her, a prosecutor said Thursday.
But Conrado Juarez' lawyer contested the alleged admission to killing the 4-year-old girl long known only as "Baby Hope."
"This alleged confession is completely suspect," attorney Michael Croce said as Juarez pleaded not guilty to murder.
Juarez, a 52-year-old kitchen worker, was arrested only last month in a case that stumped investigators for decades.
Naked, folded and tied with rope, the girl's asphyxiated corpse was found in a cooler beside a Manhattan highway in 1991. There was semen on her body, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Melissa Mourges told a judge.
Until recently, detectives didn't even know the girl's name. They dubbed her "Baby Hope" and paid for her headstone — a marker that was finally engraved with her name, Anjelica Castillo, last week.
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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, in turn, deposited them with his relatives. Juarez, a cousin, was staying in the same apartment with Anjelica and her sister, 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 ensuing 14 hours, Juarez first told detectives he just helped his sister dispose of the cooler, unaware 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 corpse, 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, among other questions he raised about the reliability of the statements.
Croce declined to describe Juarez' own version of events. Juarez told newspapers the girl died accidentally, he helped his sister dispose of her body, and detectives pressured him into saying he killed her.
Police and prosecutors have expressed confidence in the confession. Prosecutors are awaiting DNA test results, Mourges said.