Defendant outburst halts child rape-kidnap trial

SURVEILLANCE VIDEO A video still from Bryant Elementary shows a woman in a burqa who police say kidnapped and raped a 5-year-old girl. Prosecutors say it was Christina Regusters, who dressed similar to the victim's mom.
SURVEILLANCE VIDEO A video still from Bryant Elementary shows a woman in a burqa who police say kidnapped and raped a 5-year-old girl. Prosecutors say it was Christina Regusters, who dressed similar to the victim's mom.
Posted: September 05, 2014

THE TRIAL of Christina Regusters, the West Philadelphia woman accused of kidnapping and raping a 5-year-old girl, was abruptly recessed yesterday after the defendant suffered a meltdown in front of the judge, jury and courtroom packed with spectators.

"I never touched your child!" Regusters, 21, blurted out, tears streaming down her face, as her cousin, Katrina Regusters, testified about learning last month that the defendant allegedly sexually groped her 11-year-old daughter on three occasions in 2011.

Katrina Regusters, fighting her emotions, testified that she had been closer to the defendant than she was to her siblings and never suspected that she would harm either of her daughters.

"Who looks forward to testifying against their own cousin?" the distraught mother told Assistant District Attorney Jessalyn Gillum minutes before the defendant lost it.

"She's lying," Christina Regusters pleaded out loud to defense lawyer W. Fred Harrison Jr., as deputy sheriffs tried to calm her and make her sit down. Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Minehart had the jury escorted from the room.

Katrina Regusters left the witness stand holding her mouth and sobbing.

Prior to Katrina Regusters' testimony, her daughter - who turns 12 on Monday - took the stand and told the jury that the defendant had touched her bottom and chest twice at the Catharine Street home in West Philadelphia where they lived in 2011, and touched her bottom at the day-care center where the defendant worked.

"She was actually touching me all over my body," the girl said, recalling the first time was when she was dressing and only wearing underwear.

The second time, the defendant gave her an electronic game device to keep quiet, she said. "She touched me all over my side and a little on my chest," the girl said.

Christina Regusters said such touching was fine because her own father had touched her in the same way, the girl said. (The defendant's father served a prison term for assaulting her and her sister.)

When Harrison asked the girl why she didn't tell anyone about the touching until last month, the girl replied, "Because I was a little scared and confused."

The girl first said the touching incidents happened in 2010, then changed the year to 2011 when an incredulous Harrison informed her that Regusters did not live in Philadelphia in 2010.

Minehart ended court early after the outburst and said testimony would resume this morning.

Regusters is on trial for allegedly attacking another girl, who testified last week.

Prosecutors told the jury that Regusters went to Bryant Elementary in Cobbs Creek on Jan. 14, 2013, dressed in a face-covering Muslim burqa - similar to that worn by the victim's mother - and took the girl from school.

At the Walton Avenue home where Regusters was living with her aunt, the prosecutors said, Regusters sexually assaulted the girl brutally before abandoning her the next morning in a nearby Upper Darby park wearing only a dirty T-shirt. DNA on the shirt helped police link Regusters to the crime.

Regusters knew the girl because she was enrolled at the Heaven's Little Angels day-care center where she worked.

Earlier yesterday, Regusters scored a victory when Minehart ruled that a statement she gave to police when she was arrested on Feb. 14, 2013, could not be presented as evidence by prosecutors unless she testifies.

During a motion hearing conducted without the jury present, she testified that detectives never informed her of her Miranda rights and brushed aside her request for a lawyer.

"They ignored me and asked me questions," Regusters said in a soft, high-pitched voice while being questioned by Harrison.

"I believe I just wanted to get it over, so I just answered," she said when he asked why she participated in the interview.

Harrison argued that the statement she gave was not voluntary, and cited a court-ordered mental-health report that found his client had normal intelligence but "may respond impulsively in some stressful settings."

Assistant District Attorney Erin O'Brien argued that Regusters had been given her Miranda warnings during two interviews six days earlier, one conducted by Philadelphia police, the other by the FBI.

But Minehart said he could find no case law to support O'Brien's position that such prior warnings are sufficient.

On Twitter: @MensahDean

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