LEXINGTON, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - A Lexington County mother has been sentenced to 38 years in prison for killing her 4-year-old daughter in July 2014.
Cynthia Estrada-Lopez, 28, pleaded guilty to homicide by child abuse on April 1 in connection to the death of her daughter, Lilly Lopez, according to a news release by the South Carolina Eleventh Judicial Circuit.
“The death of this precious 4-year-old girl due to child abuse is one of the most tragic cases that we’ve seen. This crime has left a lasting impact on our office, law enforcement and the Lexington County Coroner’s Office. Lilly’s death is incomprehensible to us and is compounded by the callous nature of her mother’s actions,” Eleventh Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard said in a news release.
On the evening of July 31, 2017, the Lexington County 911 Center received a call at 9:05 p.m. to the home of Lopez and her husband, David Steadman, on Nazareth Road. First responders found Lilly unresponsive on the living room floor and began CPR.
Lilly was pronounced dead after arrival at the Lexington Medical Center.
The law enforcement investigation by the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department determined evidence of child abuse and neglect, including numerous bruises to Lilly’s head and body, the solicitor’s office reports.
Evidence presented during last week’s guilty plea included statements that Lopez made to investigators over the course of eleven days. Lopez initially told first responders that she discovered her daughter collapsed in a hallway, the solicitor’s office stated.
During the investigation, a 5-year-old sibling participated in a forensic interview conducted by an interviewer who is specially trained in working with children. The interview was conducted at the Dickerson Child Advocacy Center in Lexington County. During the interview, the sibling reported witnessing his mother restrain and tape Lilly to her bed. The sibling also reported witnessing his mother place tape over Lilly’s mouth “so she doesn’t cry,” a news release by the South Carolina Eleventh Judicial Circuit states.
Following the forensic interview of the sibling, investigators with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department returned to the home on Nazareth Road on August 10, 2017 and conducted an additional search. Investigators discovered remnants of tape in a trash bag that were constructed in a fashion consistent with a mouth restraint. They also observed a torn piece of tape along the headboard of Lilly’s bed.
Investigators conducted an additional interview with Lopez and she confessed to placing tape over Lilly’s mouth and restraining her to the bed on the night of July 31, 2017, the solicitor’s office reports. In her voluntary statement to investigators, Lopez admitted that Lilly was “gasping for air” after her husband later removed the tape. She further admitted that she and her husband waited “at least maybe an hour” before calling 911 or seeking medical assistance for Lilly. She stated that she waited to seek medical assistance for Lilly because she “did not want to look worse than I already am.”
An autopsy by a forensic pathologist revealed that Lilly died as a direct result of aspiration of food particles into her lungs, caused by Lopez placing tape over her mouth and physically restraining her. The autopsy report also noted dehydration and blunt force trauma to Lilly’s head.
Lopez was arrested on August 11, 2017 for homicide by child abuse, according to the Eleventh Judicial Circuit. Lopez’s husband was also arrested after providing statements to law enforcement acknowledging child neglect and their failure to render medical aid to Lilly. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison following a jury trial conviction in February of 2020.
Lopez is reportedly being transferred to the S.C. Department of Corrections to begin immediate service of her sentence. Under South Carolina law, Lopez will not be eligible for parole.