A former daycare worker has been found guilty of abducting a 5-year-old girl from her Philadelphia elementary school and then brutally sexually assaulting her with a sharp object.
The jury's verdict marked the culmination of a nearly two-year ordeal that has horrified city leaders and residents.
Christina Regusters was convicted of all six charges, including kidnapping and sexual assault of a child. The 21-year-old sat emotionless Friday morning as the jury of seven women and five men threw the book at her inside a packed courtroom at Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center.
U.S. & World
Her mother, sitting behind her, sobbed into a washcloth. Tears also streamed down the faces of the victim's family.
"She's an amazing and courageous little girl," lead prosecutor Erin O'Brien said of the young victim following the ruling. The girl, now 7, had testified in court before the accused.
A guilty verdict on only two of the charges would carry a sentence that amounts to life in prison. Regusters' sentencing was set for Dec. 15, and Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart ordered a mental health evaluation.
"It was a fair verdict," W. Fred Harrison, Jr., Regusters' attorney, said after leaving court. He said Regusters is planning to appeal.
Prosecutors said Regusters, dressed in Muslim garb, posed as the 5-year-old’s mother as she signed the child out of Bryant Elementary School in the Cobbs Creek section of the city on Jan. 14, 2013.
She was accused of leading the girl to a nearby home, putting her in a laundry bag and carrying her up into her bedroom. There, prosecutors say, Regusters blindfolded and stripped the girl, put her under a bed and sexually abused her with a sharp object. The entire ordeal lasted 19 hours, prosecutors say.
The girl was then dumped in an Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, playground wearing only a T-shirt. She was later found by a passer-by.
The girl had been severely injured in the attack, and doctors had to give her a temporary colostomy to let her body heal.
Regusters was arrested a month later and after a lengthy grand jury investigation was indicted on six counts: aggravated assault; involuntary deviant intercourse of a child involving serious bodily injury; kidnap to facilitate a felony; unlawful contact with a minor involving sexual offenses; unlawful restraint of a minor with a risk of a bodily injury; and concealment of the whereabouts of a child.
She remains the only person charged in the heinous crime.
Over the course of the 12-day trial, lead prosecutor Erin O’Brien painted the woman as a delusional monster who lied about her involvement in the kidnapping and rape.
Regusters and her attorney argued that she may have been involved in the kidnapping, but did not sexually assault the girl.
Extreme emotions filled the courtroom throughout the trial, with a number of people, including jurors, shedding tears.
The jury and media were shown graphic photos of the girl's injuries immediately after her attack, imagery so disturbing that members of the public were removed from the courtroom.
Also during the trial, testimony by Regusters' cousin that the defendant had also sexually abused her daughter prompted an outburst by Regusters. Regusters yelled out and tried to run from the room, halting the trial briefly.
Regusters never took the stand before the jury but did speak to the judge when Harrison sought and won a suppression of her statement to police. The reason: She was never read Miranda rights following her arrest, the judge found.
During her testimony, the victim recounted the attack and talked about how she was told that a bad man hurt her. The girl said she was shown a cell phone image of the man, who she was told assaulted her. But prosecutors say it was all an act, made up to confuse the girl.
Regusters’ DNA was found on the girl’s shirt, and images of child porn were found on the computer in the woman’s bedroom, detectives testified. Harrison argued such evidence was circumstantial, but, after the trial, conceded that the evidence was too damning.
"The DNA was difficult to overcome as well as the internet searches which I believe led to her undoing," Harrison said.
Before the trial began, prosecutors offered Regusters a plea deal that would have earned her 40-years in prison.
As for the victim, she continues to recover from the injuries sustained in the assault. Her attorney, Tom Kline, has filed a civil lawsuit against the School District of Philadelphia seeking damages for the child.