Conrado Juarez, 52, approaches the bench before his arraignment at Manhattan Criminal Court for the alleged murder of 4-year-old Anjelica Castillo, nicknamed "Baby Hope", Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013, in New York. Castillo's body was discovered inside a picnic cooler beside a Manhattan highway in 1991, resulting in a decades old investigation that led to Juarez's arrest and admission that he sexually assaulted and smothered her. (AP Photo/John Minchillo,Pool)AP2013
The man police say confessed to sexually assaulting and killing a 4-year-old New York City girl known as "Baby Hope" claims he did not kill her and his confession was coerced, according to The New York Times.
But, Conrado Juarez, 52, who spoke to the newspaper in a jailhouse interview, did admit that he helped dispose of the child’s body.
Juarez, the slain girl’s cousin, was charged with second-degree murder last Friday after police said he admitted to sexually assaulting Anjelica Castillo and smothering her with a pillow before dumping her body in a cooler on the side of a Manhattan highway.
“They insisted and insisted. They would say, ‘You killed her!’ So after a while and after so much pressure, I accepted it and said what they wanted.”
- Conrado Juarez, charged with Anjelica Castillo's murder
The murder went unsolved for 22 years before a tipster led police to Castillo's mother in July, and eventually to Juarez.
But Juarez said he was interrogated for hours and then was forced to sign papers, written in English, that he did not understand.
“They insisted and insisted,” Mr. Juárez told The Times of the detectives who interrogated him. “They would say, ‘You killed her!’ So, after a while and after so much pressure, I accepted it and said what they wanted.”
Juarez pleaded not guilty to the charges.
He told The Times Anjelica was an abandoned child whose mother couldn’t care for her and whose father, his uncle, just left her at his home. He seemed resentful, the newspaper said, that the girl and her sister were forced upon him.
The police have a video and written confession of Juarez giving police a detailed, step-by-step account of the night he allegedly smothered Castillo and dumped her body on the highway with the help of his sister, Balvina Juarez-Ramirez.
Juarez told The Times what really happened was he got a call by his sister telling him that Anjelica had been running and had fallen down the stairs. Anjelica was dead and his sister needed help dumping the body.
He said he helped his sister stuff the child in an Igloo cooler. Together, they hopped on a taxi from Astoria, Queens to the Henry Hudson Parkway in Manhattan and dumped the body.
“I told the police that I put a pillow over her face and killed her,” Mr. Juárez said. “But it wasn’t like that.”
Juarez is under psychiatric evaluations and is in protective custody at Rikers Island. His sister passed away in 1995.
A person with knowledge of the investigation told The Times that Juarez appeared calm during his confession – although he did cry at one point while describing his account of the events of that night in 1991. Some portions of the confession were written and others were videotaped.
Baby Hope's Silent Mother
Anjelica's mother says fear and a language barrier kept her from reporting her daughter's disappearance over two decades ago.
Margarita Castillo says she didn't know where Anjelica was until authorities contacted her earlier this month.
Castillo says she was separated from two of her three daughters, including Anjelica, after splitting from her husband. The other daughter was returned to her in 1995. She says she believed Anjelica was alive and living with relatives.
Officials say Castillo was afraid of her ex-husband and of being deported.
Police are looking for her father.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.