A Colorado Springs man has been sentenced to 20 years the Department of Corrections after pleading guilty in the death of a 5-year-old girl at a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, where defense attorneys expressed their dissatisfaction with the prosecution's treatment of their client through plea negotiations.
Matthew Urias, 28, was originally charged with first-degree murder in the death of Emily Canales after prosecutors say she and his girlfriend, Brianne Escamilla, abused the young girl, who was Escamilla's daughter.
An affidavit acquired by The Gazette detailed the abuse suffered by Canales, and the significant and obvious decline in her health in the days leading up to her death.
Urias and Escamilla recognized that Canales was acting strangely and said she was not feeling well in the days leading up to her death, but neither called 911 until she died on Jan. 13, 2022.
At a hearing in May, Urias and Escamilla entered guilty pleas to child abuse knowingly or recklessly causing death, a Class 2 felony. The charge of first-degree murder was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.
Last month, Escamilla was sentenced to 18 years in the Department of Corrections for causing Canales' death.
Over the course of the case defense attorneys representing both Urias and Escamilla have asserted that the other defendant was more responsible for causing Canales' death, a thread which was brought back to the surface at Tuesday's sentencing hearing.
The sentencing hearing opened with the prosecution briefly informing the court that the sentencing range for Urias as part of the plea agreement was 20 to 35 years in the Department of Corrections. The prosecutor, Brien Cecil, stated that it was the prosecution's belief that Urias was "the worse actor here," and that he caused the injuries to Canales which led to her death.
Cecil requested for Judge Marcus Henson to impose the maximum sentence allowable under the plea agreement of 35 years in the Department of Corrections.
What followed was an over hour-long defense of Urias from his attorneys, who asserted that the prosecution did not have evidence to support their claim that Urias was the "worse actor," and that all Urias is truly guilty of is not calling 911 sooner to get help for Canales.
Urias' attorneys claimed that the insinuation that their client was the primary abuser causing Canales' death by the prosecution was based on circumstantial evidence that Urias is a man and was "more likely" to have been able to cause the injuries sustained by Canales.
Urias' attorneys went on to claim that the initial plea deal they received from the prosecution included a sentencing range of 35 to 40 years in the Department of Corrections, something that was only amended to the 20 to 35 year range after a mitigation presentation.
The first offer received by Escamilla from the prosecution, which she accepted, included a sentencing range of 16 to 20 years in the Department of Corrections, according to the defense.
"Gender discrimination is at play," Urias' attorney claimed to the court. "That is not fairness in sentencing."
The defense went on to point out that Urias has maintained his innocence regarding having caused the fatal injuries throughout the case and that Escamilla confessed to law enforcement after Canales' death that she had caused the fatal injuries.
During Urias and Escamilla's preliminary hearing, attorneys representing Escamilla argued that Urias was an abuser to both their client and Canales.
Escamilla's defense attorneys at preliminary hearing called on Colorado Springs detective Rebecca Joines to testify that she had spoken with a former neighbor of the couple who stated that on several occasions in 2021 they could hear Urias screaming at people in their apartment.
On one occasion, Joines stated that the neighbor could hear Canales yelling "help" and "stop" over and over again as well as Escamilla yelling "please stop."
At sentencing, Urias' attorneys stated that the claims from Escamilla's attorneys that Urias was an abuser were "overblown" and that the his lone domestic violence accusation stemmed from a singular push against Escamilla.
The defense requested for Urias to be given the minimum sentence of 20 years in the Department of Corrections, but also stated to the court that Urias was not attempting to shy away from taking responsibility for Canales' death, and that he understands he should have called 911 long before Canales died, something Urias said himself prior to having his sentence imposed.
"I'd like to apologize to Emily's father, to her family and to my family," Urias said. "I'd give my soul to go back in time and make that call ... I apologize to Emily. She should still be here today."
Henson also heard from numerous members of Urias' family, several of whom were present in court for the sentencing hearing, and all of whom spoke to the character of Urias, describing him as loving, generous and caring.
Prior to issuing his sentence for Urias, Henson stated that regardless of if the accusations from the defense are true that Urias was not primarily responsible for causing the fatal injuries, both defendants remain responsible for Canales' death by not acting sooner to get help.
"A lengthy sentence in the Department of Corrections is appropriate regardless of if they caused the fatal injuries," Henson said. "No number of years will ever change the tragic outcome of this case."
Henson ultimately opted to issue the minimum possible sentence allowable under the plea deal, sentencing Urias to 20 years in the Department of Corrections. As part of the plea agreement, Henson also sentenced Urias to one-year in jail to be served in the Department of Corrections for a probation violation on a DUI case.
Two misdemeanor cases against Urias — one for domestic violence allegations and another for an alleged restraining order violation — were both dismissed as part of the plea agreement.