Rio Rancho Police arrested city resident Leland Hust, 21, on Oct. 5 and charged him in the death of 6-year-old Ariana Jade Romeo.
Hust was booked in the Sandoval County Detention Center on charges of:
• Abuse of a child resulting in death (under 12 years of age).
• Aggravated criminal sexual penetration (resulting in the death of a minor).
Rio Rancho police also arrested the man who owned the house where Ariana was killed. Winston Scates Sr., 63, was charged with at least one count of criminal sexual contact with a different minor.
On Aug. 11, emergency medical personnel and police officers were called to the 200 block of Moonstone Drive after Ariana’s mother found her dead. Responders observed Ariana lying in a garage converted to a bedroom, bloody and wearing a shirt and no underwear.
Officers then observed a yellow mattress nearby with a bloodstain on it. After EMS determined that Romeo was deceased, the officer on scene reported seeing Hust come out of an adjacent room.
With assistance from the New Mexico State Police and the Albuquerque FBI field office, Rio Rancho detectives gathered facts and evidence, including DNA, which led to charges against Hust, according to police.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Sandoval County Magistrate Court, an autopsy found that Ariana’s injuries were consistent with rape and death by strangulation or suffocation. The New Mexico State Crime Lab found DNA matching Hust’s on the girl’s body.
Rio Rancho Police Chief Stewart Steele said the men and women of RRPD had worked diligently with the goal of obtaining justice for the little girl, who attended Ernest Stapleton Elementary.
“We recognize that the community has been passionate about this incident involving a 6-year-old girl,” Steele said. “We want the community to know that we too are passionate about justice for Ariana. We appreciate the patience and understanding that the citizens of Rio Rancho have provided us.”
As for Scates, records show this is not the first time he has been accused of sexual abuse of a child.
According to an investigative report, police interviewed Scates in February 2011 after a woman reported that he had inappropriately touched her 4-year-old daughter while the two were staying at his home.
Scates denied the claims, and no charges were ever filed against him but police say he hinted at other allegations during the interview.
“I asked if he had ever been accused of something like this before, to which he hesitantly replied ‘yes,’ ” an officer wrote in the report. “When I asked what the circumstances were, he replied that he did not want to talk about it, and shortly thereafter concluded the interview.”
Police say they were unsuccessful in finding any previous abuse cases linked to Scates at that time.
(Albuquerque Journal reporters Elise Kaplan and Matthew Reisen, and Observer editor Argen Duncan contributed to this report.)