Accused stepdad awaits transfer
Roberto DeLeon will be brought to Maryland to face charges of assaulting and murdering his 8-year-old stepson on Okinawa in April 2007.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. District Attorney’s office in Baltimore said DeLeon, indicted there Feb. 25 in U.S. District Court, made his initial appearance in Atlanta on Monday.
The indictment was sealed until last Friday because DeLeon, who has family in Panama, was out of the country. He was arrested in Atlanta upon his return.
"Mr. DeLeon had his initial appearance yesterday in Atlanta and will be brought to Maryland," Marcia Murphy said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes Wednesday. "No timetable for that right now. He remains detained."
The indictment alleges that on April 7, 2007, DeLeon, 27, of Glen Burnie, Md., beat Jordan Peterson, causing serious injury, and that four days later he killed him in an attack in their Uruma home by causing blunt force trauma to his abdomen. At the time, DeLeon was married to Air Force Staff Sgt. Sabrina Renee DeLeon, assigned to Kadena Air Base.
"The indictment was returned on February 25, 2009 and unsealed [Friday] upon the arrest of the defendant," Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland said in a release.
Rosenstein thanked the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their work on the case.
Also thanking investigators and the Maryland U.S. attorney’s office are the child’s father and aunt.
"I was so excited when I got the phone call from one of the attorneys," said Damion Peterson in a three-way telephone call with his sister and a Stripes reporter from his home in San Antonio, Texas.
Peterson, divorced from Jordan’s mother, did not find out about his son’s death for a year. He said his ex-wife restricted his access to the boy while she was stationed on Okinawa.
Peterson said he was distraught over the length of the two-year investigation. DeLeon had been arrested in May 2007 by Okinawa police, but prefectural prosecutors declined to take the case to court, citing a lack of evidence. Because DeLeon was a civilian, the Air Force had no jurisdiction over him and sent their case files to the U.S. Justice Department.
Federal law covers U.S. citizens who commit crimes in foreign countries that would be considered crimes in the U.S.
"I was told DeLeon was arrested as he was getting off the plane in Atlanta, but a lot of what the U.S. attorney was telling me was drowned out by my shouting ‘Hallelujah!’" Peterson said during the telephone call. "I’ve been waiting for this for so long."
He said he is still waiting to receive medical records from Okinawa so he can have a clearer picture concerning his son’s injuries.
"You can bet we’ll be there for the trial," Marlo Saenz, Peterson’s sister in Kempner, Texas.
"New questions arise daily on how and why this could have happened."
The Air Force and Okinawa child welfare officials had been criticized for their handling of the case.
A teacher had reported her suspicion that Jordan was being abused and an Okinawa woman reported that in November 2006 she found the boy walking shirtless and bruised, telling her he was running away from home.
"How could they have handed this little boy back over to the mother and stepfather?" Saenz said. "Someone somewhere is responsible, and the blood of Jordan is on their hands."
On Tuesday, Hisa Uechi, the woman who found him roaming the streets, said she was pleased at the news of the indictment.
"So, people have not forgotten about him after all," she said.
"Since that day I found him, he never left my mind. I feel that a big weight has been lifted off my chest."
Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this story.