NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The jury is now deliberating in the Leland Hust trial. Hust is accused of raping and killing 6-year-old Ariana Jade Romeo in Rio Rancho in 2018. Closing arguments wrapped up Monday afternoon.
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Hust’s defense team argued there is not enough evidence to convict, saying extreme stress during interrogation was the reason behind what they say is a false confession. “These statements which we know are false, are no coincidence, they’re the product of subtle police pressure,” said Hust’s defense team.
Monday in court, Hust’s defense argued that police convinced him he’d raped and killed Romeo when they told him they’d found his DNA on her body. They say, Hust who was 21 when he was arrested, was young and vulnerable, and police interrogated him for hours, starting out compassionately and then getting aggressive, making him question whether he had killed the girl.
The state, however, says all of that was an act calling Hust calculated. “The defense just stood up here for over an hour talking about ‘Poor Leland, poor our client,” said prosecutors. “Poor Jade! That’s what we’re here for, for her justice. Poor Jade, that she had to sit there that night and endure those injuries,” prosecutors said to the jury.
The jury began deliberation just before 1 p.m. Monday. If convicted, Hust faces life in prison. Last week, the girl’s mother Stephanie Romeo, was the first to testify. She recalled the moment she found her daughter’s body which was found in August 2018, naked from the waist down and bloody in the Rio Rancho home she shared with Ariana, Hust, and at least six other people.
An autopsy showed Ariana had been strangled. Wednesday in court, prosecutors showed the girl’s lifeless body when police arrived. Hust got emotional when they described the scene.
Rio Rancho police took DNA from everyone in the home at the time. Hust was then arrested after police say DNA found on the girl’s body matched his. They say he was also the last person to see the girl alive.