Team Coverage by Tony Hanson, Steve Tawa and Walt Hunter

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Less than 24 hours after it began deliberating the case against Christina Regusters, a Philadelphia jury today found her guilty of kidnapping a five-year-old girl from her West Philadelphia kindergarten class early last year, molesting her, then leaving her the following morning in an Upper Darby playground, clad only in a t-shirt, to be found by a passerby.

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Regusters (top photo), now 21, was arrested in early 2013 following an extensive manhunt that included police distribution of surveillance video from the Bryant Elementary School showing a woman, dressed head to toe in black Muslim garb, coming to the school and leaving with the child.

School officials say the woman, her face covered by a traditional niqab,  identified herself as the girl’s mother before checking the girl out of class on that cold January morning last year.

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Police say the young victim herself was instrumental in tracking down the defendant.  The girl was able to recall for police details of where she was taken:  an iron stair railing, and a talking bird.  The Regusters household was found to include a foul-mouthed talking macaw.

Prosecutors praised the victim for having the courage to testify against her attacker in court and, earlier, despite her severe injuries, helping police find evidence leading to the arrest.

“This is a child who was able to provide more detail and more information than most adults,” said assistant DA Erin O’Brien after the trial.  “She is an amazing, courageous child, and hopefully this give her some closure.”

“I can’t imagine what she endured at the hands of this monster, but this case was solved because of this five-year-old,” DA Seth Williams agreed.

(Prosecutor Erin O'Brien speaks with reporters after obtaining convictions on all counts against Christina Regusters.  DA Seth Williams is in background.  Photo by Steve Tawa)

(Prosecutor Erin O’Brien speaks with reporters after obtaining convictions on all counts against Christina Regusters. Philadelphia DA Seth Williams stands behind her. Photo by Steve Tawa)

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Among the evidence convincing jurors of Regusters’ guilt following the 3-week trial, a “911” tape with the words of Good Samaritan Nelson Mandela Myers, who found the victim in an Upper Darby Playground, crying for help and shivering.

Another key piece of evidence, according to prosecutors, was Regusters’ DNA found on the young victim.

One of the jurors who asked to remain anonymous says a DNA match with Regusters was a major factor.

“Certainly the DNA evidence was strong…the strongest factor in our decision,” the juror told CBS 3’s Walt Hunter.

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The verdict, guilty on all six counts, was announced in Courtroom 1101 of Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center, with Judge Jeffrey Minehart presiding.

As the verdicts were read aloud, the little girl’s mother leaned forward, nodding her head in agreement, with tears welling up in her eyes.

Regusters had previously rejected a plea deal that would have called for 40-80 years in prison.  Prosecutors say they will ask for a life prison term.   Sentencing is set for this coming December.

“I’m going to ask for the least amount and hopefully the judge listens,” Regusters’ attorney Fred Harrison told reporters.

Jurors, preferring not to comment, were escorted out of the courthouse by sheriff’s deputies.

Defense lawyer Fred Harrison said he had already counseled the defendant not to show any emotion as the verdicts were announced.

(Defense attorney Fred Harrison speaks to reporters after the trial.  Photo by Steve Tawa)

(Defense attorney Fred Harrison speaks to reporters after the trial. Photo by Steve Tawa)

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“I didn’t want an outburst like we had previously,” Harrison said afterward. “I’m sure there’s an appeal coming. They’re going to ask for the max.  She understood that as well.”

Attorney Tom Kline, who represents the victim and her family, says the guilty verdict is an important step in helping heal the badly abused victim.

“There are physical and emotional scars that are there for life, that’s why this verdict is so important,” Kline stated.

Kline said, “There’s still a day of reckoning for the Philadelphia school district.”

The family’s lawsuit contends the school district failed to adequately train and screen the substitute teacher who allowed a stranger to take the girl out of school that day.

 

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