South Bend — Melissa Wallace sat in the witness stand in a St. Joseph County courtroom on Tuesday, holding a piece of paper, as she read her statement about the murder of her daughter and her unborn grandchild, revealing a mix of anguish and anger.
She recounted her reaction when she first learned what happened, her sense of failure at not protecting her 17-year-old daughter, Breana Rouhselang, and the struggle to move on. She also asked that Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Hurley sentence the killer, Aaron Trejo, to life in prison.
“Life goes on, but for me it’s put on hold until I see her in heaven,” Wallace said through tears.
Breana’s father, David Rouhselang, fought back tears as he urged a harsh sentence for Trejo, claiming the 17-year-old boy had “no remorse or regret for what he’s done.” David had a picture of his daughter tied around his neck as he spoke.
Members of Trejo’s family also had a chance to speak, trying to reveal another side of his personality.
“Aaron is the most loving, most caring, most persistent, most consistent person I know,” said his older brother, Adam Trejo.
After weighing several factors — Trejo’s age and lack of prior criminal record, but also the violent nature of the crime — the judge sentenced Trejo to 65 years in prison. He’ll receive a 55-year sentence for murder and a 10-year sentence for feticide. The sentences will run consecutively, with no time suspended.
“You took her life in one of the most savage and violent manners I have seen in my career,” Hurley told Trejo before announcing her sentence.
Trejo pleaded guilty to stabbing and killing Rouhselang, a Mishawaka High School classmate, in December 2018 after the two argued over her pregnancy. Her body was discovered in a dumpster behind a restaurant near her home. A trash bag had been placed over her head and upper torso, according to court documents.
Trejo told police that Rouhselang waited too long to tell him about her pregnancy and that it was too late for an abortion. Rouhselang was six months pregnant at the time of her death. Trejo told police when initially questioned, “I took action… I took her life,” according to court documents.
In court Tuesday, Trejo apologized to Rouhselang’s family in a short statement.
“There is no excuse for what I’ve done” he said. “Saying I’m sorry wouldn’t be enough, but it’s all I can give.”
In addition to family members, Trejo’s attorney called on a forensic psychologist to speak about the pressures Trejo faced. The psychologist, Anthony Berardi, testified that the teen felt “trapped” by his parents, who did not want the child put up for adoption.
“He had a lot of repressed hostility, a lot of repressed anger,” Berardi said.
Hurley, however, noted when she announced her sentence that many teenagers feel the same way about an unplanned pregnancy but do not commit violent crimes.
“It became apparent,” the judge told Trejo, “you had so many other options.”
After the sentencing, family and friends of Rouhselang gathered outside the courthouse.
“All I can say is I miss her a lot,” said a friend, Jasmine Sills. “She was like my sister.”
Several people were dressed in shirts that read “Justice for Bre” in blue lettering with a picture of Breana on the back. They hugged and talked.
“I’m glad we got justice for Bre,” said Wallace, her mother. “But no amount of time will ever replace what he took from me.”
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