September 23, 2013

Ayla's relatives' competing messages promote search, charges

Missing Waterville toddler's paternal grandmother says focused should be on finding girl; mother releases more information she says is evidence and calls for police to make arrests

By Jesse Scardina jscardina@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

and Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Family members of missing Waterville toddler Ayla Reynolds traded accusations and calls to action today, even as authorities continued to withhold comment on the case and the dueling public appeals.

Meanwhile, experts on wrongful convictions say the slow, methodical pace of the nearly 2-year-old case is desirable because it wards against innocent people being unjustly charged and convicted.

Phoebe DiPietro, Ayla's paternal grandmother, said today in a statement to the Morning Sentinel that the case should remain focused on finding the child rather than pressing for criminal charges.

Her comments came the same day that the missing girl's mother, Trista Reynolds, released more detailed information she said police shared with her — mainly surrounding samples of Ayla's blood found in the Waterville home where she was reported missing. The Reynolds statement was released by Jeff Hanson, Trista Reynolds' former stepfather who operates the websites united4ayla.com and justiceforayla.blogspot.com. It calls for the prosecution of Ayla's father, Justin DiPietro, his ex-girlfriend, Courtney Roberts, and DiPietro's sister, Elisha DiPietro, who were at the 29 Violette Ave. home when Ayla was reported missing.

"We respect the dedication of the police agencies and the prosecutor's office in pursuing this case," the Reynolds statement said. "However, we disagree with delaying arrest and prosecution."

Josh Tepfer is a Chicago-based attorney and co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, which maintains a database of more than 2,000 crime convictions that are overturned when the person is proven innocent. While he was not affirming DiPietro's innocence, he said criminal investigators have better insight into how — and when — to proceed.

"It's often that family members are made suspects and it often turns into the burden for them to prove their innocence rather than the other way around," Tepfer said.

Grandmother: Focus on finding Ayla

Phoebe DiPietro, mother of Justin DiPietro and owner of the Waterville residence where the child was reported missing, said the focus of the case should remain on finding Ayla and that bloggers and the media have a "way of distorting the truth."

"Trista can say and do what she wants," Phoebe DiPietro wrote. "I believe that the focus should remain on finding Ayla. Once Ayla is found, then and only then will I think about justice."

Ayla Reynolds was reported missing on Dec. 17, 2011, and police have called the ongoing investigation the largest in the state's history. State police have said they don't believe the three adults that were in the house when Ayla disappeared have told them everything they know.

Phoebe DiPietro disputed this idea in her statement.

"You have heard and read over and over again that law enforcement believe the three adults know more than what they are saying," Phoebe DiPietro said. "Let me ask you this, if they so strongly believe that, why are they not asking the questions? Why are they not scheduling meetings with my family or with my attorney?"

The information Reynolds released today — a five-page statement sent to many Maine media outlets — provides more details about what Reynolds said Maine State Police told her during a meeting on Jan. 3 this year.

Reynolds' statement outlined seven additional locations that she said showed where police found Ayla's blood inside the home, in addition to three locations she has talked about in recent interviews.

Because some of the blood was mixed with saliva, Ayla had likely coughed up blood from internal and external injuries, Reynolds' statement says. Reynolds says police told her the spray pattern from some of the blood could not have come from a cut.

According to the statement, police found Ayla's blood on the girl's slippers, on the sofa in the upstairs living room, on a doll's face, on a fan cord in the basement, on a plastic tote that had a bloody sheet inside of it, as well as splatters of Ayla's blood on the cement floor and wall near DiPietro's bed in the home's basement.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Justin DiPietro

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