Jury finds Leland Hust not guilty of first-degree murder

New Mexico News

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A jury has found Leland Hust not guilty of first-degree murder. However, the judge announced Wednesday that the jury was deadlocked on two charges: child abuse resulting in death and criminal sexual penetration of a minor A deadlocked jury is a jury that is unable to reach a verdict by the required voting margin.

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“We find the defendant Leland Hust not guilty of first-degree murder, felony murder,” the judge read to the courtroom Wednesday afternoon. It was a verdict that left much of the courtroom in tears.

“It’s not exactly what we hoped for, coming out of trial. Not sure that it fully reflects the evidence that we saw,” said Graham Dumas, one of the defense attorneys. “It’s a very emotional and difficult situation that we all just dealt with for the past two and a half weeks.”

Hust was visibly emotional after the verdict was read. His mom said the verdict was ‘good’ but was still upset. She remains adamant that her son is innocent on all charges and someone else is to blame.

“I feel like it’s good but I feel like they screwed up this whole investigation and the real guilty person is getting away the entire time,” said his mom, Sarina Hazeltine. “How are you supposed to separate this? We all love Jade. We all care about Leland. We know Leland is innocent. We know the fricking child molester in the house killed Jade. It’s obvious.”

Romeo’s mom was not present when the verdict was read. However, the deputy district attorney for Sandoval County said she spoke to her after it was read. She says as difficult as it will be to go through another trial process, they do plan to retry the hung charges.

“She’s disappointed but she’s strong and she’s ready and willing to do it again,” said Jessica Martinez, Deputy District Attorney for Sandoval County. “We put in a lot of work. The victims, all the families, they have to relive this over again. I think everyone was hoping for closure and nobody got that today.”

It’s a lack of closure and need for answers felt by most, including Hust’s family. Despite the acquittal on the murder charge, Hust will stay behind bars until his retrial.

“There’s no relief in this. Jade was murdered by somebody,” said Hazeltine. “There’s no relief here for anybody at all. My family, Stephanie’s family. Leland’s family, nobody, there’s no relief for anybody here.”

Prosecutors say despite today’s outcome, they will get justice for Romeo and her family. Martinez says any retrial wouldn’t happen for at least six months.

“We’re not going to stop trying for her,” said Martinez. “We’re going to get her justice.”

Hust was accused of raping and killing Ariana Jade Romeo in a Rio Rancho home in 2018. The child was found naked from the waist down and bloody in the home she shared with her mother, Hust and at least six other people.

The defense argued Hust was young and vulnerable and that police interrogated him for hours before he was pressured into a false confession. However, prosecutors made the argument that Hust’s fragile state was all just an act. Closing arguments wrapped up on Monday afternoon.

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