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LOWELL — Nearly a year after a 19-year-old Lawrence woman was found half naked and strangled in a Braintree hotel room, a 19-year-old woman with ties to Lowell is facing murder charges, and accusations she lured the victim into sex work and her death.
Juana Rivera, of Lynn, and formerly of Lowell, is charged with murder, human trafficking, unarmed robbery, kidnapping and conspiracy in connection with the June 22, 2017, death of Reina Rodriguez.
Rivera, who a source said attended Lowell High School before dropping out several years ago, was arraigned Monday in Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham, where she was ordered held without bail, according to court records.
Rodriguez was found last year in a room at the Braintree Hyatt naked from the waist up, with her hands and legs tied behind her with phone cords, according to a court filing made by Norfolk County prosecutors. Prosecutors wrote that Rodriguez’s phone and wallet were nowhere to be found.
An autopsy determined the cause of death was “homicidal asphyxia,” according to prosecutors.
A statement of the case filed by prosecutors says Rivera, in 2016, recruited Rodriguez and “promised to teach the victim how to make a lot of money doing sex work.”
Rivera would drive Rodriguez to the Braintree Hyatt for sex work, and kept the proceeds from that work, according to prosecutors.
The two women lived together briefly, until Rodriguez moved in with Rivera’s ex-boyfriend Jason McLeod, according to prosecutors.
McLeod told investigators he suspected Rivera in the killing because Rivera had issues with Rodriguez once she started dating him, according to prosecutors.
“Multiple witnesses testified before the grand jury regarding animosity between the victim and defendant Rivera,” prosecutors wrote. “Defendant Rivera and the victim had several physical fights, and Defendant Rivera threatened to kill the victim.”
Shortly before midnight on June 21, 2017 — the day before Rodriguez was killed — Rivera and two men were on Mead Street in Lowell, according to prosecutors.
An unidentified grand jury witness testified “Rivera and the two men who were in Lowell had traveled to Braintree to rob the victim,” prosecutors wrote in a statement of the case.
Those two men were later identified as Kenyonte Galmore and Kentavious Coleman, according to the court filing. Galmore and Coleman are also facing murder, kidnapping, robbery and conspiracy charges in connection with the death. Both men are being held in Mississippi on unrelated charges as prosecutors seek their return to Massachusetts.
McLeod, too, is facing charges, but not in connection with the killing. He is charged with human trafficking and deriving support from prostitution, according to court records. He was arraigned Friday and ordered held on $100,000 cash bail, with orders that if he posts bail he must wear a GPS device and stay out of Lowell and Lawrence, according to court records.
The court filing goes on to say that a “digital investigation” determined that on the day of the killing, Rivera posed as a john and set up a meeting with Rodriguez in the Braintree Hyatt.
“Defendant Rivera then relayed information about the room number to Defendant Galmore,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors say Galmore and Coleman were seen entering the hotel separately, but then leaving together a short time later.
Galmore’s DNA was found on the phone cord used to restrain Rodriguez, and on her fingernails, according to a court filing. Prosecutors say phone records show both Rivera and Galmore’s cellphones were in the area of the Hyatt at the time of the killing.
A grand jury witness testified, under a grant of immunity, that Rivera told her she didn’t know Rodriguez was killed until McLeod called her.
“Defendant Rivera told (the witness) that she did not enter the hotel room and Defendant Rivera did not know the victim was dead until Defendant McLeod called her,” prosecutors wrote. “Defendant Rivera told (the witness) that after the phone call, she confronted the men and was told that the victim struggled so they had to smother her until she died.”
No records of arrests for Rivera could be found in Lowell, but her name was mentioned in a 2016 case in Lowell in which she allegedly drove a suspect away from the scene of an alleged home invasion and assault.
Prosecutors wrote that after the killing, Rivera, Galmore and Coleman traveled to Rhode Island and Nebraska. It was not immediately clear where Rivera was arrested.
Rivera’s attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Rivera pleaded not guilty to the charges at her arraignment Monday.
Rivera is due back in Norfolk Superior Court on Thursday for a bail hearing, according to court records.
Follow Robert Mills on Twitter @Robert_Mills