NEW YORK (AP) - The man charged with sexually assaulting and smothering 4-year-old "Baby Hope" in 1991 denied in a jailhouse interview that he killed the girl but admitted he helped dispose of the body.
Conrado Juarez told The New York Times that Anjelica Castillo died in a fall down the stairs.
The 52-year-old kitchen worker was arrested Oct. 11 on a charge of second-degree murder. Police said he confessed to assaulting the child and smothering her with a pillow to stifle her screams.
But Juarez told the newspaper his confession was coerced.
"That's the mess I find myself in," he said in the Wednesday interview at the Rikers Island jail complex.
He said he was resigned to spending the rest of his life in prison.
Juarez's lawyer, Michael Croce, declined to comment Friday on his client's remarks to the Times. Croce has questioned the legitimacy of the statements police said Juarez made after about 12 hours of interrogation.
"I'm anxious to see what the evidence is besides an alleged confession," Croce reiterated Friday.
Juarez is due back in court Oct. 22 to find out whether he's been indicted. Croce said he has advised Juarez not to testify before the grand jury.
Police had been searching for Anjelica's killer ever since her body was found 22 years ago in a cooler dumped by the roadside in upper Manhattan. No one had reported her missing, and her identity was a mystery until police received a tip recently that helped them identify the girl's mother.
At the time of her death, Anjelica and a sister were living in the city's Queens section with relatives including Juarez's sister, Balvina Juarez-Ramirez. Juarez and his sister were cousins of the girls, who had been left there by their father.
Juarez said Anjelica was sometimes tied to a chair because she was headstrong.
In the interview published in Friday's paper, he said his sister called him one day on his mobile phone to say that Anjelica had died in a fall down the stairs. The Times reported that for the account to be accurate, Juarez would have had to be one of fewer than 3 percent of the people in the United States who had a mobile telephone in 1991.