Who is Leland Hust? Ariana Romeo, 6, murder, rape suspect duped by cops: Defense

Hust's defense reportedly portrayed him as a young man who had been tricked by the police into incriminating himself


                            Who is Leland Hust? Ariana Romeo, 6, murder, rape suspect duped by cops: Defense
Stephanie Romeo told a jury that she returned home from a long night of work and climbed into bed beside her daughter without realizing the girl was dead (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO: The trial for a man accused of raping and killing a six-year-old Rio Rancho girl is ongoing. Prosecutors reportedly said that DNA proves that 24-year-old Leland Hust murdered Ariana Jade Romeo in Rio Rancho three years ago in August 2018.

As per the latest reports, prosecutors reportedly showed the jury extremely graphic crime scene and autopsy photos of Ariana's body, even describing her multiple injuries. However, the defense says that police forced Hust to believe that he had committed the crime. 

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According to the latest local reports, DNA that matched Hust was found both on and in Ariana's body. Hust, however, continues to deny killing the young girl

What had happened in 2018? 

On Wednesday, Jade's mother, Stephanie Romeo, reportedly told a jury that she returned home from a long night of work and climbed into the bed beside her daughter without realizing the girl was dead. Stephanie then continued to recount that it was the following morning on August 11 when she was trying to wake the girl up that she made the horrid discovery. 

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“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,” Stephanie told a New Mexico court on Wednesday, June 9, according to a report in the Albuquerque Journal. “And I knew right then. So I took the blanket off her and her legs were purple, and I knew she was dead."

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According to her testimony, the young child was already cold to the touch by the time her mother made the discovery. Her time of death was estimated to be around 10 pm the night before, which was hours before her mother got into bed with her. 

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As per the reports, Ariana had suffered multiple injuries, including those consistent with sexual assault, and was found to have died of strangulation. A blood spatter was reportedly found on the bed, and a Playboy magazine alongside it.

Who is Leland Hust?

Leland Hust, 24, is accused of raping and killing the young child. He was 21 at the time of the killing. He had been living in the Rio Rancho home with Stephanie and Ariana Romeo and reportedly several other people. 

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Hust has reportedly denied having anything to do with Ariana’s death and told investigators that he thought of her as a sister. His defense team said that police forced Hust to believe that he had committed the crime. They reportedly portrayed him as a young man who had been tricked by the police into incriminating himself.

"This is a murky case based on insufficient investigation," defense lawyer Michael Rosenfield reportedly said in his opening statement. Rosenfield described him as "vulnerable" during a two-hour interview with the police, which was done two months after the child was discovered dead. They added that Hust had started giving incriminating statements after investigators started playing mind games with him. As per reports, his defense team claims that they exaggerated the amount and significance of DNA evidence that had tied the 21-year-old to the crime.

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As per prosecutors, a vaginal swab showed DNA evidence proving Hust's guilt. They also stressed that the case was investigated thoroughly for two months before Hust was even deemed a suspect.

Assistant District Attorney Jannette Mondragón said, that since Stephanie worked at night, Hust "had an opportunity that night, and he took it." Hust’s mother also testified, and described the morning Ariana's mother Stephanie found her daughter dead inside the home. “Then she screamed bloody murder and then all hell broke loose,” Serena Hazeltine told prosecutors. “I remember Stephanie screaming saying Jade was dead. I was like, ‘Yeah right. That’s impossible.’” The judge dismissed the jury for the weekend.

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The trial is reportedly set to continue Monday, June 14, and is reportedly expected to last about 10 days. 

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