Rio Ranch Police arrest man in murder of young girl

David Lynch, Joy Wang and Patrick Hayes
October 05, 2018
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Nearly two months after a 6-year-old girl was found dead by law enforcement in her Rio Ranch home, police say they have made an arrest.

21-year-old Leland Hust has been taken into custody by Rio Rancho Police in connection with Ariana Romeo’s death, officers say. He is being charged with child abuse resulting in death and aggravated criminal sexual penetration.

The arrest is the first in the case.

“Our officers and detectives, many of whom have children of their own, have been profoundly impacted by the death of Ariana,” RRPD Chief Stewart Steele said. “We recognize the community has been passionate about this incident involving an innocent 6-year-old girl. We want the community to know that we too are passionate about justice for Ariana.”

Investigators say it was DNA evidence that eventually pointed them toward Hust, as well as evidence that led them to believe the home’s owner was involved in a separate investigation involving another juvenile victim.

That man, 63-year-old Winston Scates Sr., was also taken into custody Friday night. Scates was previously investigated in 2011 for alleged sexual assault of a 5-year-old, but police say charges were never filed because the victim’s family did not want to cooperate.

Romeo’s body was found the morning of August 11 in her home, when her mother found her unresponsive. In their investigation, detectives have said that sexual abuse could have potentially been “an element in the crime.” Court documents showed her body was found in bloody bedsheets.

In late August, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent a letter to Sandoval County District Attorney Lemuel Martinez offering his help in prosecuting the Romeo case, saying, in part, “we are willing to partner with you in the development of any prosecution of any individual who may be criminally liable for this appalling crime.”

RRPD officers had a history with the home off Moonstone, with 33 interactions involving first responders for various reasons since the start of 2010.

“We’re all human beings. We have families,” Steele said. “And in a case like this, it’s tragic and it affects us all, regardless if you’re an officer or not.”

Both suspects will be held at Sandoval County Detention Center in Rio Rancho.

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