On July 17, 2017, AbbieGail Smith’s mother reported her missing from their New Jersey apartment complex. Police later found her body sexually assaulted and stabbed. Her killer, Andres Erazo, confessed to the crime, and was found guilty. He filed an appeal in March 2022, which he won.
Around 8:00pm on July 17, 2017, AbbieGail Smith, 11, went upstairs to visit her neighbor in their New Jersey Apartment. Andreas Erazo lived in apartment 16-A, directly above AbbieGail with his mother and brother.
When AbbieGail did not return home, her mother, Carol Bennett, called the police. Police went to apartment 16-A and found Erazo alone. They asked if they could search the apartment for AbbieGail. Erazo agreed, but police did not find any sign of the missing child. They left but returned to search Erazo’s apartment again around 5:00am. The second search did not turn up any evidence either.
AbbieGail is Found
Around 10:30am, police who were searching the area for evidence found AbbieGail’s remains on a roof that was adjacent to Erazo’s bedroom window. She was not wearing any pants or underwear. AbbieGail had been raped and stabbed in the neck. Her body was found wrapped in a futon cover, tied with computer cords. Police would later trace the items back to Erazo.
Andres Erazo is Questioned
Police returned to Erazo’s apartment and asked him to come to the station for an interview regarding AbbieGail’s disappearance. Police did not tell Erazo they had found her remains. Erazo agreed and was brought to the police station. According to court documents, Erazo was questioned for almost 1.5 hours. This interview was not recorded; Erazo was not being questioned as a suspect at the time.
After the first line of questioning was over, detectives asked Erazo if he wanted anything to eat or drink and he declined. Upon exiting the interview room, the detectives that were conducting the interview learned that a witness came forward and told police they saw AbbieGail entering Erazo’s residence the night she went missing.
The lead detective felt this information was enough to suspect Erazo.
Detectives then brought Erazo into a different interview room where he waited for about seven hours for investigators to get the proper recording devices prepared. Police started interviewing Erazo again. This time, he was not a witness, but a suspect.
Erazo was read his Miranda rights and signed a paper agreeing to speak without a lawyer. During this interview, Erazo told police he had accidentally killed AbbieGail when she “suddenly” appeared at her house. According to Asbury Park Press, he thoughts she was an intruder. When detectives told Erazo that AbbieGail was found not wearing underwear, he denied sexually assaulting her, and stated he blacked out. Police requested that he provide a DNA sample. Erazo requested a lawyer, and the interview ended after five hours. According to court documents, Erazo hoped since it was accidental, he would be able to go home and see his own baby be born and grow up.
In part of the interview that has been released, you can hear Erazo describe how he bound AbbieGail after he stabbed her in the neck. He tells police he bound her wrists together and then her ankles together. Erazo stated “wrist to wrist, ankle to ankle, then you put the 2 together.” Then he demonstrates the position that he left her in.
Andres Erazo was indicted for first degree murder; three counts of first degree aggravated sexual assault; Fourth-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, third degree possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose in July 2017.
Erazo’s defense attorneys filed a motion for his confession to be inadmissible. This motion was denied on February 26, 2019.
Erazo accepted a plea deal. Some charges were dropped and Erazo pled guilty to murder and aggravated sexual assault of a victim under the age of 13. On May 31, 2019, a judge sentenced Erazo to life plus 50 years to run concurrently.
Erazo’s defense attorneys submitted another appeal, stating when Erazo was brought to the police station he was being held as a suspect and given a “custodial interrogation” and not a witness interview. The argument the defense made was Erazo was never told he was allowed to leave; he was not free to use the bathroom or take cigarette breaks without an escort. Erazo maintains he felt he was not free to leave.
The defense also argued that the police “questioned first and warned later,” violating his Miranda rights. Court documents explain the statements police made towards Erazo regarding his videotaped interview, undermined the Miranda warnings they gave. Police told Erazo the recordings would only be used to help him. The defense added Erazo’s young age of 18, coupled with the fact he did not finish high school, and suffered from untreated bipolar disorder, made him susceptible to coercion.
The argument was filed on January 12, 2022, and the decision came back on March 28, 2022. The supreme court reversed the decision in part, ruling that Erazo’s confession should not have been used in court against him. The decision means Erazo can withdraw his guilty plea and potentially get a new trial.
The prosecutor’s office stated they have other evidence, including DNA, that proves Erazo committed the murder, and they will fight the decision, which they are currently in the process of doing.