A woman from Nevada accused of strangling and abandoning her special needs son on a Las Vegas trail has pleaded guilty and faces a minimum sentence of 28 years in prison, KLAS reports.
Despite prosecutors claiming she admitted to the murder, 36-year-old Samantha Moreno-Rodriguez initially pleaded not guilty on August 20, 2021, according to Fox News.
Over a year later, on Sept. 1, 2022, she entered a guilty plea for murder and child abuse, neglect, or endangerment resulting in substantial bodily harm, KLAS says, citing court documents from Sept. 1.
KLAS notes that she will be eligible for parole in 20 years.
Hikers discovered the body of 7-year-old Liam Husted near Mountain Springs off State Route 160 on May 28, 2021, between Las Vegas and Pahrump, says KLAS. With an unidentified body on their hands, investigators released a recreated image of the boy, which they named John “Little Zion” Doe, People Magazine reports.
A family friend called police regarding the image, leading police to positively identifying the boy as Liam via DNA evidence, People says.
In a 2021 report, the Las Vegas Review-Journal (LVRJ) revealed that Moreno-Rodriguez left Liam’s father, Nicholas Husted, a voicemail to say “I’m sorry. I had to do this.” The LVRJ adds that Moreno-Rodriguez claimed she wanted to get a house for her and Liam, and she and Nicholas could discuss it later.
Nicholas Husted was never considered a suspect, the LVRJ says.
Citing court documents released by the Las Vegas Justice Court at the time, the LVRJ says Moreno-Rodriguez allegedly told a friend that Husted was taking her and Liam on a trip to Las Vegas from May 18 to May 23, though Moreno-Rodriguez left San Jose, California, on May 24, 2021. People Magazine reports she was driving a 2007 dark blue Dodge Caliber.
Husted found Moreno-Rodriguez gone on May 24, with her cell phone left at home, the LVRJ says.
On May 26, Moreno-Rodriguez’s vehicle was spotted in Victorville, California, before she and her son checked into a Las Vegas hotel on May 27, the LVRJ reports.
Upon gaining access to her email account, police tracked Moreno-Rodriguez to a Days Inn south of Denver, Colorado, where she had checked in on May 31, the LVRJ says.
On June 1, Husted contacted San Jose police to inform them that he hadn’t heard from or seen Moreno-Rodriguez or their son, after which police put out a notice to watch out for the Dodge Caliber, the LVRJ says.
The report also notes the couple were having relationships issues for about two years, the LVRJ adds.
“Nicholas did not want to press charges for child stealing; he just wanted Samantha taking (Liam) documented,” the report said, according to the LVRJ.
The San Jose and Las Vegas police departments began working together after the family friend contacted the San Jose cops regarding the image recreation, leading detectives to fly to San Jose to retrieve DNA samples, and they matched DNA to the body by June 6, the LVRJ says.
Police arrested Moreno-Rodriguez on June 8, 2021 in Denver and she was extradited to Las Vegas, the LVRJ notes.
“This is an egregious case of filicide. She essentially said that she became frustrated with the child and strangled him,” Clark County Deputy District Attorney John Giordani said during a hearing last year, People Magazine states.
Nicholas Husted called Liam, who was on the autism spectrum, “brilliant” and said he loved to help cook and bake, the LVRJ says.
“He was one in a trillion. I’m still in shock. I still don’t want to believe it,” Nicholas said at a vigil held for Liam, according to the LVRJ.
In light of her guilty plea, her Sept. 20 hearing has been rescheduled, though a date has yet to be announced, Fox says.