Crime - Sacto 911

DNA, cellphone pings link suspect to killing of Jadianna Larsen

Jadianna Larson’s clothing contained traces of DNA linked to the man accused of killing the 6-year-old Sacramento girl and setting her body on fire near a rural Glenn County road in May 2015, a detective testified at a preliminary hearing in the girl’s death.

Sacramento County prosecutors allege Jadianna was sexually assaulted by Juan Rivera, 25, before he killed the child with a blow from a blunt object, burned her body at the end of the long drive north to Glenn County, then enlisted his mother, Lisa Burton, 46, to help him cover up the crime.

On Friday, mother and son sat feet apart in Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White’s courtroom, Rivera accused of murder, Burton, as an accessory after the fact, in the first day of the pair’s preliminary hearing. Supporters of Jadianna’s family, wearing buttons with her picture, attended the hearing.

Burton did not look at her son as Chris Britton, one of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department detectives who investigated Jadianna’s death, told of the criminologist’s findings of spermatozoa on most of a dozen pair of the girl’s underwear recovered by investigators. Traces of DNA were also found on the stained Cherokee and Garanimals T-shirts Jadianna once wore.

The samples were “consistent with Juan Rivera,” Britton testified as Burton, wearing a tired and distant gaze, put her face in her hands and ran fingers through her hair.

The criminologist swabbed other items, Britton testified – Jadianna’s torn mattress, the apartment’s shower faucet. They contained traces of a mixture of Jadianna’s and Rivera’s blood, Britton testified.

Rivera was supposed to take care of Jadianna at the south Sacramento apartment complex where Tanecia Clark – who was Jadianna’s mother and Rivera’s girlfriend – and Burton lived. Clark was undergoing mental health treatment at the time of Jadianna’s death, relatives said.

Rivera had told investigators that he had a seizure disorder and that Jadianna went missing sometime during an hours-long seizure episode on May 27, 2015. Rivera said he recovered late that night to search for the girl and call 911.

But a dark portrait emerged in the days and months after Rivera reported her missing the night before her charred body was found near a desolate dirt road 90 miles north of Sacramento.

County child welfare workers had opened a file on the girl almost from birth that stayed open throughout her short life. She far too often missed school, school officials said.

And on the witness stand, detectives testified that Jadianna’s neighbors at the apartment complex said they noticed red welts on the girl’s back, presumably caused by Rivera.

Britton testified that two days before Jadianna’s body was found, a neighbor heard a child scream, then call out near her apartment just after 2:30 a.m.

Britton testified the neighbor heard a girl she believed to be Jadianna say, “I want my mom,” “Stop,” “Leave me alone.”

Days later, Jadianna was dead. Sheriff’s Detective Jason Lonteen testified that surveillance cameras and pings from cellular towers traced what investigators suspect was Rivera’s early morning journey from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to rural Glenn County to dispose of Jadianna’s body and back to Sacramento.

The images, Lonteen said, included a 7:30 a.m. stop at a Walmart on Truxel Road in Natomas. They showed a man believed to be Rivera carrying a gas can.

The preliminary hearing continues Monday.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

Related stories from Sacramento Bee