By Kevin Murphy
(Reuters) - New York City police have arrested a cousin in the killing of a 4-year-old girl dubbed "Baby Hope," whose body was found crammed in a picnic cooler in 1991, police said on Saturday.
Conrado Juarez, 52, early on Saturday confessed to sexually assaulting and then smothering the girl, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told a news conference.
Police detained him at a Manhattan restaurant on Friday, more than 22 years after the girl's death, he said. Juarez was arrested on the murder charge and was awaiting arraignment, according to New York electronic court records.
The girl, dubbed "Baby Hope" by investigators, was never reported missing and was only recently identified.
Kelly named her as 4-year-old Anjelica Castillo.
Her bound, asphyxiated body was discovered stuffed underneath cans of soda inside a blue-and-white cooler alongside the Henry Hudson Highway in northern Manhattan in July of 1991. She had been starved and sexually abused, police said.
New York police announced on Tuesday they had identified the girl's mother after following through on a tip they received over the summer. Her identity was confirmed through DNA testing and she was cooperating with the investigation, they said.
After the girl's death, members of the police department paid for her funeral and many worked for years in hopes of identifying her or her killer.
"Today, NYPD investigators are giving young Anjelica her due justice," Kelly said.
Kelly said that Juarez had told investigators that he ran into Castillo in a hallway when he went to an apartment in Astoria shared by seven of his relatives.
"He said he sexually assaulted the child, then smothered her," Kelly said of Juarez. "When she went motionless, he summoned his sister from another room."
His sister, who has since died, told him to dispose of the body and brought him a cooler, Kelly said. They took the cooler from the apartment and rode in a cab to Manhattan where they carried it through a wooded area and put it down, he said.
"Juarez returned to the Bronx and his sister to Queens, never to speak of the heinous act again until the NYPD investigators through their relentless investigation caught up with Juarez," Kelly said.
New Yorkers for years saw police sketches of the dead child on posters around the city.
(Reporting By Kevin Murphy; Editing by David Bailey and Sandra Maler)