PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A defense attorney focused on unresolved questions about the kidnapping and sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl abducted from school as he urged jurors Wednesday in closing arguments to acquit his client.
The lawyer suggested that perhaps his client, 21-year-old Christina Regusters, was involved in the brazen overnight attack that left the little girl with severe injuries but did not act alone — a theory that prosecutors rejected in their own closings.
"Do you kidnap someone, (then) go downstairs and make some small talk?" defense attorney W. Fred Harrison Jr. asked, referring to testimony that Regusters was home with three other relatives that day.
Regusters, now 21, knew the girl from her day care job, and she was off work the day the girl went missing in January 2013.
Prosecutors insist that police chased down more than 500 tips before the girl's memory of a talking bird at the house where she was left blindfolded under a bed helped lead them to Regusters. The suspect's DNA was found on the oversized shirt the girl was wearing when she was located — the only clothing she had on when she was abandoned at a cold, dark playground the next morning, authorities said.
Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Thursday. The two weeks of trial testimony included a brief court appearance by the young victim, who skirted over the attack but told the jury about the bird, the school visitor and other details.
The kidnapper spent just seven minutes inside the school, donning a Muslim cloak and veil to pose as the girl's mother and slip past several checkpoints. A substitute teacher who described the morning drop-off as chaotic let the girl leave her kindergarten class with the woman without asking for identification or checking with the front office.
The woman said she was taking the girl out to breakfast.
"You don't drop a child off at the start of the school day and pick her up five minutes later," Assistant District Attorney Erin O'Brien said Wednesday. "It took them eight hours for them to find out that she had gone missing."
The girl's family has filed a civil suit against the Philadelphia School District and the substitute teacher.
The girl's mother — alerted by the girl's after-care program — quickly went to work at the school, questioning staff, searching rooms and seeking security videotape. The staff seemed complacent, she testified.
Regusters had been to the school occasionally to pick up children for the after-care program. She typically worked in an infant room with the victim's younger brother.
Her work supervisors, along with the victim's mother, testified that she seemed to be a caring child care provider.
Police, though, said her seized pink laptop indicated that she had an interest in child pornography and Japanese anime involving sexual torture. The judge kept references to the animation out of the trial.
Regusters on Wednesday elected not to testify. She spent much of the trial furtively taking notes and shuffling papers at the defense table.
She went to live with the aunt in Philadelphia after her father went to prison in Maryland for assaulting her and sexually assaulting her sister, according to trial testimony.