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Mother of slain 'Baby Hope' says devastated by daughter's death in NYC: reports

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The mother of "Baby Hope", who was murdered and packed in a cooler in 1991 and only recently identified, said she was devastated to hear about her daughter's death allegedly at the hands of a relative, according to news reports.

Margarita Castillo, 52, broke her silence on Monday, telling reporters from behind her Queens apartment door that she is "just waiting for justice" for Anjelica Castillo, who was four at the time of her death.

"We are not going to have peace," she said in Spanish, the New York Daily News reported. "You can't even describe a punishment."

Two sources close to the case told Reuters that a Manhattan grand jury is reviewing evidence against Conrado Juarez, 52, a relative of the victim on her father's side, who was arrested on Saturday in connection with the case.

Juarez confessed to the killing after more than 12 hours of interrogation, his court-appointed public defender, Michael Croce, said on Monday but added he will try to have the confession thrown out on the grounds that it was coerced.

Juarez, who despite his age was Angelica's cousin, has been placed in protective custody on Riker's Island "for his own safety," Croce said.

Croce said that when he met Juarez after police questioning he appeared "extremely exhausted" and "in a state of shock." Croce said that no forensic evidence ties his client to either the child's body or the cooler in which she was found.

"In a case like this there should be a tremendous amount of forensic evidence. And there's none," he said.

Castillo, meanwhile, is cooperating with investigators, one of the two sources told Reuters on Monday.

ANONYMOUS TIP

The extraordinary brutality of the "Baby Hope" case shocked New Yorkers as news accounts cited investigators' findings about her final days.

Her bound, asphyxiated body was found packed beneath soda cans inside a cooler along a Manhattan highway in July 1991. She had been starved and sexually abused in the days preceding her death, investigators said.

New York detectives on the case for years had called the nameless child "Baby Hope" and paid for her funeral and burial when no one came forward to identify her - and vowed never to give up their pursuit of her killer.

A fresh lead emerged last summer after police cold case investigators launched a publicity campaign tied to the 22nd anniversary of the gruesome 1991 discovery.

A tip from the dead child's older stepsister led police to Castillo, according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited an unidentified law enforcement source late on Monday. Soon investigators approached Juarez, a dish washer at a Greenwich Village restaurant.

LINGERING QUESTIONS

Still, crucial questions surrounding the child's disappearance remain unanswered.

Chief among those is why no one - including her mother, father, other relatives, neighbors or any of Castillo's nine other children by three different men - ever reported the child missing.

On Monday, Castillo declined to answer that question, the Daily News reported.

A law enforcement source involved in the case said Castillo, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, may have feared deportation if she drew authorities' attention to her family.

The two sources close to the case told Reuters that Anjelica's parents split up in the late 1980s. Her father took Anjelica and two other daughters by Castillo to live with his niece and other relatives in another section of Queens.

Soon after the split, people familiar with the case said, Castillo went to the relative's apartment to retrieve her daughters, but only came away with one.

Anjelica and another sister stayed with their father and his relatives, until the father returned to his native Mexico. The two sisters were left with the relatives, the sources said.

Sometime soon after that, Anjelica disappeared from the apartment. Castillo told investigators that when she began to inquire about her daughter's whereabouts with the relatives the child had been left with, she was told that Anjelica was no longer living there, but little more, according to a law enforcement source.

Authorities continue to probe Juarez's alleged role and the contacts that other relatives had with the girl.

(Reporting by Chris Francescani; Editing by Ken Wills)

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