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DA says there’s a ‘good case’ to charge alleged kidnapper in death of toddler reportedly sold for $10,000

Posted: 9:20 PM, Sep 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-08 21:20:05-04

Authorities believe they have a good case against the Pennsylvania woman accused of kidnapping 23-month-old Nalani Johnson, whose death is expected to be ruled a homicide.

Sharena Nancy, 25, is already in custody on charges of kidnapping of a minor, interference with the custody of children and concealment of whereabouts of a child.

Nalani was allegedly kidnapped Saturday and her body was found in a park days later. According to a criminal complaint filed by the Allegheny County Police, Nancy was in an “intermittent romantic relationship” with the girl’s father.

An autopsy for the toddler was performed Wednesday, and authorities revealed Thursday that they can rule out some causes of death.

“I can tell you that there’s no sign of trauma, that’s been eliminated,” Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala told CNN affiliate WTAE . “The baby is fully clothed. She did not die from exposure to the elements, that’s been eliminated.”

A joint statement from district attorney offices of Allegheny and Indiana counties said “the expectation is that the manner of death will be homicide.”

Zappala said if so, he would charge Nancy with criminal homicide in addition to her existing charges.

“There’s no evidence that indicates anybody else was responsible for that child being taken from Penn Hills and ultimately being placed in that field, or in the woods in Indiana County,” Zappala said. “We have her movement, we have civilian witnesses, we’ve got technology, we’ve got — it’s a good case, it’s a good case to try.”

Allegheny County Police Department Superintendent Coleman McDonough told CNN Friday that no other charges will be filed until the coroner finishes his work.

“Until an official determination of the cause and manner of death by the Indiana County Coroner are made, no additional charges will be filed,” McDonough said.

Coroner Jerry Overman told CNN the autopsy has been completed but results are still pending, and his office will not release the child’s cause and manner of death for another six to eight weeks. Overman said they plan to do toxicology and metabolic testing among other microscopic studies before announcing findings.

Nancy is being held without bail at the Allegheny County Jail.

She will be represented by the public defender’s office on the charges in Allegheny County, said Amie Downs, director of communications for the county. CNN has reached out to the public defender’s office.

Father says Nalani was abducted after a fight

Nalani’s father, Paul Johnson, says that Nancy drove off with his daughter Saturday after an argument, according to the criminal complaint.

Johnson and Nancy were at the start of an “intermittent romantic relationship” that began over social media a few months prior to the incident, Allegheny County Police Superintendent Coleman McDonough said at a news conference Tuesday.

Johnson said he, his daughter and a friend spent several hours with Nancy driving around on Saturday before they began arguing, according to the criminal complaint.

Johnson said he got out of the car, but when he went to get his daughter from her car seat, Nancy drove off with her, the complaint said.

He told detectives he tried calling Nancy’s cellphone multiple times, but she never picked up, so he called 911 around 5 p.m., the complaint said.

Police stopped Nancy’s car around 7:30 p.m. but did not find Nalani inside, according to the complaint. Nancy was arrested during that stop.

Nancy says she was hired to take the toddler

Nancy’s version of events, detailed in the complaint, differs from Johnson’s. She told authorities that Johnson sold the little girl for $10,000 and that she was completing the drop off, the complaint said.

She told detectives, the complaint said, that she encountered a silver SUV with out-of-state license plates parked on the side of the road and did as she had been instructed, passing the toddler and the car seat over to a woman standing next to the car and then driving off. Nancy told police she saw a second woman inside the SUV, the complaint said.

Nancy said she then drove around, smoked cigarettes and talked on the phone with her husband, the complaint said.

McDonough said Tuesday that police have no evidence to corroborate Nancy’s version of events, adding that Johnson and his family have been cooperative with the ongoing investigation.