Christina Regusters, the woman charged in the abduction and rape of a 5-year-old Philadelphia girl, was indicted by a grand jury today.
Despite claims by both her attorney and the victim's attorney that other people were involved, the grand jury came back with indictments only against Regusters.
The 20-year-old was indicted on 11 counts including two counts of involuntary deviant sexual intercourse with a child with serious bodily injury, aggravated assault, kidnapping, corruption of a minor and unlawful restraint of a minor.
Regusters was previously charged with 15 crimes. She was not indicted on several of the most heinous charges including forceable rape and possession of an instrument of crime.
Regusters, who turned twenty behind bars last week, was not at her status hearing this afternoon, in which the prosecution handed down the indictments. Her attorney, W. Fred Harrison, Jr., said he expected the charges. He also said that although his client may have been involved in the case in some way, she was not involved to the degree the prosecution alleges.
"I certainly don't think my client is a major participant in this affair," Harrison, Jr. said. "I think there are others who are far more responsible and I think they'll come out at some point during these proceedings."
Regusters remains the sole person charged in the January 14 kidnapping of the kindergartner from her Cobbs Creek school, William C. Bryant Elementary.
Police allege the teen dressed in a Muslim hijab, a traditional head covering, to appear as the girl’s mother.
Regusters allegedly gained access to the girl’s classroom, took her from school and walked her to a nearby home along the 6200 block of Walton Avenue. At the home, investigators say, the girl was sexually assaulted.
The girl’s family has said the victim suffered severe bodily harm and needed more than one surgery to repair the damage. The 5-year-old was found a day later at an Upper Darby playground by a passerby. She was wearing only an over-sized T-shirt.
Investigators have used DNA on that T-shirt to tie Regusters to the alleged crimes. She was arrested a month after the abduction on February 14 and charged.
Police say Regusters worked at the same after school daycare the girl attended.
Harrison, Jr. says he does not believe it was his client who was caught on surveillance images leading the child out of the school. He also says Regusters would never have sexually assaulted the 5-year-old, calling those alleged actions "out of character" for his client.
"She feels that this little girl should not have been subjected to that kind of treatment," he said. Harrison, Jr. cites Regusters history as a sexual abuse victim as the reason she would not commit those crimes.
Regusters remains held on $4 million bail. After threats and an assault in the Philadelphia prison system, she was moved and is being housed in a Northampton County prison.
A formal arraignment is scheduled for May 20.
The Grand Jury
The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office convened a grand jury in the case after requesting a continuance from the court at a preliminary hearing in March.
An indicting grand jury, as it's called, gives prosecutors the ability to gather evidence and interview witnesses under oath in complete secrecy. Based on the evidence gathered, indictments can then be handed down.
Edward Ohlbaum, a law professor at Temple University and former public defender, says while calling a grand jury after a person has been formally charged is not typical, it can happen. In this case, Regusters had already been charged by the District Attorney's office.
"A grand jury system is invariably much more efficient," he said. "Not only is there considerations of witness intimidation...it also cuts down on time."
Ohlbaum says the district attorney may have also wanted to spare witnesses, like the 5-year-old, from having to testify in court.
"Perhaps in this case, they didn't want to subject the witnesses to cross-examination, not subject them to the press surrounding the case," he said.
Asked why the DA may not have indicted Regusters on all of the crimes she was originally charged with, Ohlbaum says it comes down to evidence -- or a lack thereof.
"Often when a prosecutor asks for indictments, but not all of the counts, the heavy bet is that there was the evidence was not sufficient to proceed."
Grand juries can be powerful tools for the DA to uncover other participants in the case.
Both Regusters' attorney and the victim's counsel and family have said there were others involved in the child's assault and kidnapping. However, only Regusters was indicted at Monday's proceedings. Ohlbaum says that doesn't mean investigators are not pursuing others in the case.
"It may mean at this point, that the prosecutors don't have the evidence," he said. "Or they don't want to release that evidence at that time."
He says the grand jury can be reconvened and the prosecution can issue new indictments as the evidence warrants.
The results of the Regusters grand jury investigation are not expected to be fully released for some time.
Harrison, Jr. tells NBC10.com some information will be released at the formal arraignment next month. Then more findings will be released at another hearing weeks later. The prosecution only has to release the full findings 60 days before the trial start date, which has yet to be scheduled.