PHILADELPHIA (AP) — 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.
Former day care worker Christina Regusters, 21, is the only person charged so far in the crime.
Police believe she donned Muslim garb to pose as the child's mother and remove her from class, telling a substitute she was taking the girl out for breakfast. A school security camera shows the imposter holding the girl's hand as they leave school.
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.
Regusters is charged with 11 counts including kidnapping, rape and false imprisonment.
The girl's family has filed a lawsuit accusing the school district of "reckless indifference."
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