Updated August 2, 2021 - 2:08 pm
A woman accused of strangling her 7-year-old son told investigators why she discarded the boy’s clothes after he died, according to grand jury transcripts made public this week.
The late May morning that Liam Husted was killed, Samantha Moreno Rodriguez had been hiking with her son off the highway between Las Vegas and Pahrump, near the Mountain Springs Trailhead, where his body was later found.
Liam, who had autism spectrum disorder, had been running around, “not really listening to Samantha,” Metropolitan Police Department homicide Detective Robert Ochsenhirt told grand jurors. “She’s trying to usher him back to the car so they can go on their way, and he won’t do it.”
Just days earlier, she gathered up all his clothes and toys, as well as her belongings and left their apartment in San Jose, driving “somewhat aimlessly” to Southern California in search of more affordable housing, the detective said. She had not worked in a couple years.
They ended up in Las Vegas on May 26 and walked up and down the Strip “so he could look at the lights,” she told the detective. She was trying to wear him out and get him to sleep that night.
The boy’s father, Nicholas Husted, who was in California at the time, preparing for what he called an overdue breakup and a custody battle, said he notified authorities that Rodriguez left with the boy.
Liam had “very minimal” verbal skills, Husted testified.
“He could say certain words,” the father said. “He didn’t string together sentences, but he could tell you, you know, he knew how to get what he wanted, you know. He could get that message across.”
At the trail the next morning, Rodriguez was exhausted, she later told detectives. Liam wouldn’t listen to her.
She shoved him. He fell and hit his head, before he started screaming “louder than she had ever heard him scream before,” Ochsenhirt said. “And she wasn’t so sure how to stop him from crying. The things she had tried in the past to calm him down weren’t working.”
Prosecutor John Giordani asked the detective how Rodriguez responded.
“She indicated kind of physically with her hands going towards her neck,” the detective said. “And then we asked her if she had put her hands on Liam, and then we asked her again if she had put her hands around his neck, and she answered yes to both questions.”
She strangled him for 10 to 15 minutes “before he stopped crying and breathing ultimately,” Ochsenhirt said.
Rodriguez was indicted last week on a murder charge.
Liam had been left naked in an area where investigators said they found no other evidence. No corresponding footprints. No weapons. No bag of clothes. None of his toys.
A medical examiner noted a laceration on the boy’s head, abrasions on his face, left shoulder, right earlobe and the front of his neck.
Homicide detectives traced Rodriguez to a hotel in Denver, where she was arrested. They asked why the boy was left naked.
“Samantha indicated that she had watched television crime shows,” the detective testified, “and thought that by removing his clothing it would make it more difficult to associate him with her after she left the scene.”
Rodriguez is due in court Wednesday.