Last week, Conrado Juarez was arrested for the murder of his four-year-old cousin Anjelica Castillo, whose death was a mystery since 1991 when the girl's body was found. But Juarez now tells the NY Times and Daily News in separate jailhouse interviews that he was coerced into confessing by the police.
Police say that Juarez admitted to sexually assaulting Anjelica and then smothering her with a pillow in 1991 in an apartment in Astoria. Cops say that he then enlisted his sister Balvina Juarez-Ramirez to help him, and together, they folded the girl's malnourished body into a picnic cooler and dumped it off the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan. The cooler went unnoticed for days until construction workers made the horrifying discovery.
Police weren't able to identify the girl, so they called her "Baby Hope," the name on her tombstone. Then, after renewing a call for information about the murder, the NYPD got a tip that led them to Baby Hope's mother, who said her husband took two of her daughters away to live with his relatives and she never saw Anjelica again.
Juarez, 52 and a dishwasher at a Manhattan restaurant, stressed that his already-struggling sister cared for their cousins well, even if she had to tie them to chairs at times. He contends that Anjelica simply fell down the stairs. From the Times:
“I told the police that I put a pillow over her face and killed her,” Mr. Juárez said. “But it wasn’t like that.” He said that his sister Balvina called him one day on his cellphone to say that Anjélica had been running and had fallen down the stairs. She was dead; Ms. Juárez needed help, she told him, according to his account.
For Mr. Juárez’s account to be accurate, then Mr. Juárez, a kitchen worker who did not speak English or have working papers, would have been one of fewer than 3 percent of people in the United States who had a mobile telephone in 1991.
He said he helped his sister stuff the girl into a cooler. He recalled that the child was wearing a nightie, although the police said she was found nude. The siblings flagged a taxi off the street and rode in silence to the park, where they dropped the blue picnic cooler, he said.
They never spoke of it again. Balvina Juárez, he said, looked sad but did not weep. “I was afraid,” he said. “My mind closed. Thinking about it now, I realize I should have called the police.”
The Times adds, "A person with knowledge of the case said that in his confession, portions of which were written and portions of which were videotaped, Mr. Juárez provided investigators with details that had not been published or broadcast in the news media. They included precisely how Anjélica was bound and positioned in the cooler."
Juarez told the Daily News, "My sister said she had a cooler and we put her inside. It was dark. We hailed a cab, dropped her in the park and left her there. I feel bad for leaving her like that. It's a secret I carried for many years." He said he never abused the girl, but felt guilt about helping his sister, "All these years, I carried this weight on my mind. I feel relieved now. I'm ready to accept whatever penalty they give me."