PHILADELPHIA — A child who authorities say was abducted from her kindergarten classroom and sexually assaulted during a 19-hour ordeal believes her attacker was a man, but prosecutors call the young woman who went on trial Monday the lone attacker.
They believe they have enough corroborating evidence to convict former day care worker Christina Regusters, 21, in the brazen crime, even if the motive remains unclear.
The abductor donned Muslim garb to pose as the child's mother and lure her from her public school classroom on Jan. 14, 2013.
The girl was then stuffed in a laundry bag and brought to a west Philadelphia home, where she was blindfolded but heard a talking bird, one of several clues that ultimately led police to Regusters, Assistant District Attorney Erin O'Brien said in opening statements.
The child was sexually assaulted with an object she later described as something sharp, like a toothpick, O'Brien said. She was abandoned the next morning, wearing only a large T-shirt, on a dark, frigid playground.
"I've been stolen," she told a man who found her hiding under a slide.
According to prosecutors, Regusters told the girl that her mother had sold her to the man who assaulted her. Regusters showed the girl his picture on his cellphone, O'Brien said.
As the girl was held captive overnight, her mother "was living every parent's worst nightmare," O'Brien said.
The girl's injuries required surgery and months of recuperation. Her family has filed a civil suit against the city, the school district and the substitute kindergarten teacher who had worked at Bryant Elementary School in west Philadelphia for just eight days.
Regusters had been suspended from her job at a day care that the child attended, O'Brien said. She was familiar with Bryant because she sometimes picked up children there for the after-school program.
Defense lawyer W. Fred Harrison Jr. insisted that police have the wrong suspect.
He said witnesses estimated the school visitor to be 5-foot-10 and visibly pregnant, while the victim initially said she had dark skin. That description later changed to his client's lighter complexion during a second police interview, he said, suggesting undue influence.
He questioned how Regusters could have kept the child in the house overnight when she lived with an aunt and several others. And he left jurors with the nagging question: "Why? Why would a 19-year-old female do this?"
Regusters, he said, had been physically abused by her father as a child and raped by a stranger in 2012.
Jurors will hear from the victim, now 7, during the two-week trial.
They will also hear allegations that Regusters had searched online for information about destroying DNA evidence — her DNA was found on the girl's T-shirt — and buying Muslim clothing.
However, they won't hear prosecution evidence that she frequently looked at Japanese anime involving the sexual torture of children. The defense argued successfully that the animated images were too far removed from the facts of the case.