Juan Rivera was arraigned Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court on suspicion of murdering 6-year-old Jadianna Larsen, and his mother also is behind bars, accused of covering up the girl’s killing.
Jadianna’s burned body was found Thursday off a country road in Glenn County, about 90 miles north of the south Sacramento apartment complex she called home.
One after the other, Rivera and his mother, Lisa Suzanne Burton, 46, faced arraignment Tuesday afternoon inside a Sacramento Superior Court cell before Judge Jaime Roman and a row of cameras in a cramped jailhouse courtroom.
Rivera, shackled and wearing a jail-issue orange uniform, stood calmly as Roman read the prosecutors’ allegation against him, that the 25-year-old Sacramento man used a “blunt-force instrument” to kill Jadianna.
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Next came a sad-faced Burton, arrested as an accessory after the fact in the girl’s death. The development was a new wrinkle in the already tragic and still-evolving case.
Both are slated to return June 12 to Sacramento Superior Court.
Outside the courtroom, Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Rod Norgaard said Sacramento authorities arrested Burton for “attempting to cover up the crime,” adding that investigators’ probe into the child’s death continues. Norgaard said his office has enlisted technicians from crime labs in Sacramento and at California State University, Chico, to assist in the investigation.
Rivera, the boyfriend of Jadianna’s mother, Tanecia Clark, had told investigators he last saw Jadianna at 11 a.m. Thursday in their apartment at Martin Luther King Jr. Village. The girl’s body had been discovered earlier that morning in Glenn County.
Clark was away for mental health treatment at the time of her daughter’s death, her family members said. Rivera, who was arrested Saturday, was supposed to be taking care of the girl during her mother’s absence, authorities have said. Rivera was a regular presence at the apartment complex, staying for long stretches with his mother and Clark, according to Mercy Housing California, which owns the complex. The 80-unit complex is home to disabled and homeless adults recovering from substance abuse and mental problems.
Rivera said he had a seizure disorder and that he was stricken by a flurry of seizures that lasted more than nine hours on Thursday, police said. He told investigators the seizures had subsided by that night. By then, he said, Jadianna had vanished. Rivera said he and Burton searched for the missing girl for a half-hour before calling 911.
Ninety miles away, Glenn County sheriff’s officials had been investigating the grim discovery of a girl’s charred body off a remote road. Investigators soon identified the remains as those of Jadianna Larsen.
Sacramento County court records show Rivera and his mother have criminal records. Burton was convicted of several crimes in the county during the 1990s. In 1998, she pleaded no contest to a prostitution charge. That same year, she pleaded no contest to a charge of driving under the influence. In 1995, she pleaded no contest to illegally distributing hypodermic needles. That same year, she pleaded no contest to a theft charge.
All of those convictions were misdemeanors and resulted in brief stints in jail or on a work-release crew, county records show.
Court records also show Rivera has a criminal history dating to 2010, when he pleaded no contest and was convicted in Yolo County of felony methamphetamine possession with intent to sell and felony burglary. His probation was transferred to Sacramento County.
David Clark, Jadianna’s grandfather, arrived late to Tuesday’s hearing and left the courthouse with few words.
“It’s still emotional for me. I haven’t gotten over it,” Clark said, before rushing away as TV cameras followed closely behind.
Tuesday’s arraignment raised fresh questions about Tanecia Clark’s role and responsibility in the death of her daughter. One relative, Debra Woldridge, a great-aunt, wondered why Clark allowed Rivera to care for Jadianna.
“That’s the biggest question,” Woldridge said. “I’m still in shock. It’s just unbelievable. “Why didn’t she hand over Jadianna to David?” Woldridge asked.
Maybe, she said, answering her own question, because “the younger generation of kids wanted to show ‘I could do this.’ ”