Man Sentenced to Death for Sexual Assault and Murder of Girlfriend's 3-Year-Old Daughter
A grisly crime against a 3-year-old girl that rocked a California farming community more than five years ago ended this week with a death sentence.
A jury in Visalia handed down the decision in the case against Christopher Cheary, who was found guilty last month of the gruesome sexual assault and murder of his then girlfriend's daughter, Sophia Acosta.
Sophia was found unconscious inside an apartment in May 2011 with massive head wounds.
She was rushed to a hospital, where she died several days later.
An autopsy was conducted later that month. In court this year, the doctor who conducted the autopsy gave startling testimony about the injuries he found on her body.
Dr. Burr Hartman described, as members of the girl's family listened in horror, the bleeding he found around the genitals.
Hartman also testified that Sophia died due to oxygen starvation and that her heart and lungs stopped.
Sophia's mother, Erika Smith, also testified during the trial, where she told the court that Cheary was staying with her as he attempted to shake a drug habit.
According to KFSN, Smith testified in September that she found her daughter unconscious and nearly naked with vomit on her mouth on May 7, 2011.
"After the call of 911, I went back upstairs to find Chris in the bathtub with Sophia's body with water running and I asked what was he doing," Smith said.
Authorities said Cheary had placed Sophia in the tub in an attempt to revive her.
Cheary was later charged with raping and killing Sophia. He was found guilty in November.
Deliberations in the penalty phase began Tuesday afternoon.
"It's not easy for them to make this decision," said Tulare County Assistant District Attorney David Alavezos said of the jurors, who deliberated a final two hours Wednesday morning. "It shouldn't be easy for them, but in some cases this is justice."