Defense rests in trial on Omaree Varela’s death

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – As early as Wednesday, the public may learn if a jury finds Stephen Casaus guilty or not in the death of his 9-year-old stepson, Omaree Varela.

Witnesses on both sides are done testifying about what happened to Omaree in December 2013.

The defense spoke on Tuesday and finished after just one hour with one witness, an expert in child’s psychology.

That followed three days of witness after witness brought in by the prosecution to show that Casaus is responsible for Omaree’s death.

Aside from the parents charged with Omaree’s death, the only eyewitness to speak is his little sister. She was 5-years-old at the time. She turned seven by the time she testified in court last week to a jury deciding if her stepdad, Casaus, is guilty of child abuse resulting in death.

Prosecutor: What happened?

Child: He got hurt.

Prosecutor: How did he get hurt?

Child: Um, he got hit.

Prosecutor: Who hit him?

Child: Um, my dad and my mom.

The defense has pointed to other times the girl spoke about it and did not mention Casaus, only saying her mother, Synthia Varela-Casaus, beat Omaree.

On Tuesday, the defense even called into question how reliable a child’s memory is, especially after a traumatic event.

“Some type of post-traumatic stress disorder can very much affect a child’s memory,” said Psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Penland.

She said children have weaker memories; they can be easily influenced into thinking they remember things that may not have actually happened she added.

“Memory can be distorted or contaminated. It can be altered with new information or with suggestive interviewing,” Dr. Penland said.

Several months passed before Omaree’s younger sister even started talking about what happened. Prosecutors addressed that, suggesting it could be another sign that Casaus was abusive.

“Abuse within the family or by a person that they have a trusting relationship with, a child would be more likely to delay in disclosing than abuse from a stranger or someone they didn’t trust,” said Nicholas Marshall, the prosecutor.

“That’s been my experience, yes,” Dr. Penland responded.

The defense rested its case at about 2:30 on Tuesdsay afternoon.

Both sides will give closing arguments on Wednesday morning before the jury is sent to deliberate.

The jury will have to decide if Casaus caused Omaree’s death, either by physically abusing him or by medically neglecting Omaree’s. He is also charged with child abuse for bruises and burns on Omaree.

On Tuesday, the judge did dismiss a few lesser charges for other injuries, including a bite mark. The judge said there wasn’t enough proof that Casaus caused them.

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