The body buried in the backyard of a neighbor's home in southeast Fresno is that of missing 15-year-old Steven Humphrey, according to the Fresno County Coroner David Hadden.
The body was identified through DNA from the homicide victim's teeth. The cause of death is not yet known, Hadden said.
Humphrey disappeared more than four years ago in early 2009. His body was discovered April 16, 2013 after police received a tip that he was buried at 235 S. Dearing Ave., about a block from where he lived.
Police have remained tight-lipped about details surrounding Humphrey's death, but his father, David Essman, said that a police detective confirmed Steven’s remains had been found.
Essman also said he suspects a man living in the home, Ricardo Rosas, 23, killed his son, who disappeared on January 26, 2009. He said police have told him that his son's grave was under a shed and that Rosas was living in the shed.
"I don't think my son crawled in there and covered himself up with dirt and then built a shed over him," Essman said.
Fresno County Superior Court records show that Rosas and Humphrey's older sister were in a relationship and that he beat her a few months before Humphrey's disappearance. And two months after his disappearance, Rosas firebombed Humphrey's home with Molotov cocktails, the records show.
Rosas, a Bulldog gang member, is currently in the Fresno County Jail on a probation violation and faced a court hearing in late April. He is also a “person of interest” in the ongoing murder investigation of Humphrey.
Lt. Mark Salazar identified Ricardo Rosas, 23, in connection with the death of 15-year-old Steven Humphrey, adding "we are still collecting and reviewing evidence."
Salazar publicly linked Rosas to the teen's death on the same day that Rosas was sentenced in Fresno County Superior Court to four years in prison for violating his probation.
During the hearing, a police detective sought a court order to swab Rosas' mouth for DNA before he is transferred to prison.
Judge Glenda Allen-Hill granted the request, saying Rosas' sentence includes submitting to DNA sampling as well as any search of his property by law enforcement. The judge also noted that Rosas' crime -- he pled no contest to corporal injury to a spouse, a crime that occurred in June 2012 when he was already on probation -- was carried out with "cruelty and viciousness," and that he threatened the victim and her family.
After the hearing, Humphrey's grandmother, Dorothy Essman, said in a telephone interview: "Thank God, he's going to prison."
Essman said she and other family members believe Rosas killed her grandson because he stood up to Rosas for hitting Humphrey's older sister.
Court records show that they were in a relationship and that he beat her in September 2008 -- a few months before Humphrey disappeared in the late afternoon of Jan. 26, 2009, after he told his sister he was headed to the store. To get to the store, he had to walk past Rosas' home, Essman said.
In a plea agreement for the 2008 case, Rosas pleaded no contest to corporal injury and was sentenced to three years' probation, 133 days in jail and a yearlong batterer's treatment program.
Then, two months after Humphrey's disappearance, Rosas firebombed Essman's home with Molotov cocktails, court records show. In August 2009, Rosas pleaded no contest to felony possession of flammable material and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.
Even though Rosas is headed to prison for violating probation, Essman said, her family is glad police aren't giving up in finding her grandson's killer.
"He should never get out of prison or he'll do it again," Essman said.
Written by Pablo Lopez and Anthony Gonzalez
Edited by Anthony Gonzalez for Child Quest International