Omaree’s aunt gives tearful testimony in child abuse trial

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – For the first time in the trial against Stephen Casaus for the death of his 9-year-old stepson, jurors heard from family on the stand.

Sylvia Varela Marquez broke down in court, talking about how much her niece and nephew miss their older brother, Omaree Varela.

With their parents now charged for Omaree’s death, the other children have been living with Marquez.

Marquez is the older sister of Omaree’s mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus.

Marquez is fostering Omaree’s 7-year-old and 4-year-old siblings, working towards adopting them.

She said the children are always asking about Omaree.

“Can’t we just unbury him? Can’t they fix him?” Marquez said the kids asked her.

To cope, Omaree’s sister has been drawing pictures, which the defense showed jurors on Thursdsay.

“It says, ‘I am mad at what you did,’” said Cindy Leo, a defense attorney. “She’s talking about her mom?”

“Yes,” Marquez answered.

The defense points to drawings of Varela-Casaus beating Omaree, saying the only one that includes stepfather Casaus was drawn the day the young girl met with prosecuting attorneys.

The prosecution countered with more drawings showing an abusive stepfather.

“I asked [Omaree’s sister], ‘What’s going on in your picture?’ and she put that she was crying because mom was punching her hard and that daddy was laughing,” Marquez said.

Jurors also saw letters from Omaree’s mother that put the blame on her husband.

“Steve’s conscience was eating… was and is eating him so bad. He couldn’t even pay my angel his respects for me,” the letter said.

Varela-Casaus wrote that she recanted her confession about kicking Omaree.

“It was not at the hands of me. I allowed a lot to go on and happen, and I take responsibility for that part, but I would never do that to anyone, much less my son,” Varela-Casaus wrote to her sister from jail.

The defense pointed out that in those letters, Varela-Casaus was also apologizing to her sister as she asked her for money.

Omaree’s Injuries

Lawyers for Casaus also tried to argue Thursday that some of the boy’s old injuries may have been caused by playground falls and rough-housing with his siblings.

Prosecutors had medical personnel from the scene and the hospital on the stand.

“He had more pattern markings on him then I’ve ever seen in my career,” said Nurse Kimberly Brown.

As they showed Omaree’s injuries, Casaus cried as his attorney consoled him.

Prosecutors said Casaus, at the very least, did nothing to stop his wife Varela-Casaus from kicking Omaree to death in their home back in 2013.

An Albuquerque Police Department detective also testified that he found the tools of drug use at the home including a syringe and a burned spoon. The defense tried to say those could be the tools of a diabetic.

Wednesday during opening statements, attorneys said Casaus claimed he was doing heroin in the bathroom while his wife was beating Omaree to death on her own.

Casaus’ Changing Stories

On Thursday, Detective Michelle English said police were not called for at least an hour after Omaree was injured.

Detective English also said Casaus first denied coaching his children what to say to police. The detective said he later admitted that he told Omaree’s sister not to tell police what mom did to Omaree and everything would be okay.

But the defense argues that detectives knew Casaus’ changing stories and still didn’t arrest him immediately like they did his wife.

“So the things you’ve seem to testified to today that seem to carry so much significance about my client’s guilt to murdering the child, didn’t have so much significance on the day of Omaree Varela’s death,” said a defense attorney.

Omaree’s 7-year-old sister is expected to testify on Friday for the third day of Casaus’ trial.

Varela-Casaus also faces a charge of child abuse resulting in death. It is still not clear whether Omaree’s mother will be found competent to stand trial.

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