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MS. STRA LIKELY TO BE INDICTED, LAWYER SAYS

Rachel Stra's attorney says he expects that she and her fiance, Angel R. Colon, will be indicted in the slaying of Ms. Stra's 7-year-old daughter, Samantha Zaldivar.

Anthony N. Irrera declined to discuss evidence that authorities had gathered, but he said Thursday he believes that Wyoming County District Attorney Gerald L. Stout has enough evidence to persuade a grand jury to charge his client and Colon.

Irrera said the evidence he has viewed would enable prosecutors to obtain murder charges against Colon and Ms. Stra as a "principal and as an accomplice" in the slaying.

"At a minimum, they could try to get my client on assisting in the removal of the child's body," said Irrera, a public defender.

The district attorney described Irrera's comments as "rather amazing."

"The first thing I think of (is) 'Gee, . . . they must know more than I do,' " Stout said.

He has been keeping the investigation quiet and was surprised that the attorneys for Ms. Stra and Colon were making public statements about their clients' roles in the homicide investigation.

"It doesn't make any sense," he said.

He added that the evidence is being analyzed and that a grand jury isn't expected to start hearing Irrera said Ms. Stra and Colon have been charged in Wyoming County Family Court with sexually abusing Samantha and her two half-sisters. That trial, which also includes charges of child neglect, is scheduled to start Sept. 11.

"Rachel Stra's a victim of circumstance, caught up in the sweep to indict Angel," Irrera added.

Ms. Stra was offered immunity to testify before the grand jury, provided she passed a lie detector test, but Irrera rejected the offer. Results from her first lie-detector test, administered a few days after Samantha disappeared Feb. 26, have been ruled inconclusive, the defense attorney said.

"They're saying the results are inconclusive because she was so emotionally upset at the time," Irrera said. "I still think it's an emotionally charged situation."

Bruno Stra, Rachel's father, said Thursday he was stunned by Irrera's assessment that his daughter could face indictment.

"Oh, boy. I'm shocked. What can I say? I can't believe, in my own mind, she would do something like this. What evidence do they have?" Stra said.

Ms. Stra has repeatedly insisted that she knew nothing about her daughter's death and that Colon, the last person known to have seen the child, is innocent of any wrongdoing. Authorities have said nothing to change that impression, although Colon has said that authorities considered him the main suspect.

Colon, the father of Ms. Stra's two younger daughters, had initially agreed to take a lie detector test to prove his innocence in Samantha's February disappearance but at the last minute refused.

Samantha's sexually abused body was unearthed from a shallow grave on May 23 by a farmer plowing a corn field across the road from her family's home in Hermitage Meadows Trailer Park in Hermitage.

The cause of death has not been disclosed.

Investigators reportedly found traces of blood from Samantha's mattress and proof that a sports utility vehicle closely resembling the Ford Bronco used by Ms. Stra and Colon left and returned to the trailer park in the middle of the night of Feb. 26, about 14 hours before the child was reported missing, according to sources close to the case.

Analysis of evidence collected by investigators still is trickling in.

"We got a little bit closer yesterday," Stout said. "We are still awaiting at least one important item and perhaps another three important items."

"I think it's no secret most of our evidence is going to be forensic," the district attorney said.

Irrera said he is in the process of seeking an expert defense attorney who specializes in murder cases.

"Perhaps after I get a specialist and discuss what I know, we'll be in a better position to know if the DA can proceed without my client's testimony. If he can't, then we are in a better position to ask for immunity without any conditions," Irrera said.

Colon was arrested last week in Florida on a warrant after he failed to appear in Wethersfield Town Court on misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration.

He was charged in March during an altercation with Wyoming County deputies when Social Services workers, investigating a complaint of child neglect involving his daughters, had decided to temporarily remove the children.

The girls were returned to Ms. Stra on the condition that Colon move out of their home and that she remain in Wyoming County.

Colon is fighting extradition, and Stout's office is in the process of trying to obtain a governor's warrant for his return.

"We're still preparing the document," Stout said. "Nothing's gone out of my office yet."

In an unrelated development, Ms. Stra has received permission from authorities to leave Wyoming County this weekend to go on a camping trip with her two younger daughters, Irrera said.

"She will be calling Social Services workers each morning she is away," Irrera said.

News staff reporter Janice L. Habuda contributed to this story.

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