A jury was chosen Monday to hear a graphic trial about a 5-year-old girl abducted from her kindergarten classroom, raped in a brutal attack that left permanent injuries and abandoned at a playground on a cold January morning.
Christina Regusters is charged with kidnapping and other counts in the January 2013 abduction from the school in Philadelphia's Cobbs Creek neighborhood.
Authorities allege that Regusters took the girl from her classroom by posing as her mother. Police say the kindergartner was assaulted and left about 18 hours later at a park in Upper Darby, Delaware County, about a mile away.
Before jury selection even began, the first day of the trial featured a rejected plea deal.
Prosecutors said they offered the 20-year-old a deal that included 40 years in prison if she pleaded guilty and cooperated. Regusters turned down the offer, opting to go to trial, according to reporters in the courtroom.
Defense attorney W. Fred Harrison Jr. has said his client maintains her innocence. He said other people were involved in the abduction. The girl's family has filed a lawsuit accusing the school district of "reckless indifference."
The brazenness of the crime stunned the city, and many of the prospective jurors questioned Monday said they had read or heard something about it. However, 12 jurors and four alternates were selected throughout the day, some of whom said they knew about the case but could judge it fairly.
One prospective juror said the children's nonprofit where he worked reviewed its school safety plan after the abduction. The defense quickly struck him from the panel.
Opening statements are expected Thursday, after pretrial motions and time set aside to line up witnesses, some of whom are being brought to court through the use of bench warrants, perhaps suggesting their reluctance to cooperate.
A gag order imposed Monday prevents lawyers from commenting on the warrants.
Regusters, who was 19 when she was charged, has been in custody for more than a year on $4 million bail. She worked at a day care center which the victim attended.
Defense lawyer W. Fred Harrison Jr. hopes to unearth new evidence about the case from witnesses during the two-week trial. Bench warrants are being issued to get some of them to court. The young victim, now 7, is also set to testify.
The girl was blindfolded during much of the 18-hour ordeal. She was found partially clothed and shivering under playground equipment, and told the person who found her, "I've been stolen."
She later told police details of the house where she was held — including the presence of a talking bird — that ultimately helped them make an arrest.