The mother of a 3-year-old Exeter girl who reportedly died of blunt force trauma described her live-in boyfriend, Christopher Cheary, as mentally and physically abusive in courtroom testimony Thursday.
Cheary, 25, is charged with first-degree murder of Sophia Acosta involving sodomy, torture and lewd acts, for which he could face the death penalty if convicted.
He’s been in jail for five years awaiting trail, which started this week.
On May 11, 2011, Sophia was taken to Kaweah Delta Medical Center before being airlifted to Valley Children’s Hospital, where she died a few days later.
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Her mother, Ericka Smith, and Cheary were living together at an apartment in Exeter with Sophia and Smith’s other daughter, both by a previous relationship.
Smith has not been charged in connection with the case.
Thursday, she cried on the witness stand and dabbed her eyes with tissue. She said Cheary was abusive toward her, always “making me feel worthless.”
Her eyes were in the back of her head. She was not conscious.
Ericka Smith, mother of Sophia Acosta
They had recently had a fight in which he grabbed her on the stairs of their apartment and she slapped him and told him she wanted to end the relationship and for him to move out.
The day Sophia died, Smith testified that she had gone to Visalia by bus to obtain heroin for Cheary.
When she returned, Sophia and her younger sister were asleep in an upstairs bedroom. Both were sleeping on the same bed, she said. She closed the door and went downstairs.
Cheary smoked heroin and they both smoked marijuana, she testified.
She said she heard a thud from upstairs and went to check on it.
“I went up and found Sophia laying on the ground,” she said. Sophia had her arm across her mouth and vomit around her mouth.
“Her eyes were in the back of her head,” she said. “She was not conscious.”
She panicked and called 911. She also rushed to a neighbor’s apartment and asked for help.
The neighbor, Mary Ann Flores, said earlier this week in testimony that she saw Cheary go upstairs and bring down Sophia, who was not clothed and was sopping wet.
When she asked why Sophia was wet, Cheary told her it was “because he had to rinse her off.”
Smith testified that while waiting for police to arrive, she tried to do CPR on the child but didn’t know how.
Under questioning by prosecutor David Alavezos, Smith said Cheary’s behavior seemed odd that afternoon.
“There was some type of suspicion,” she said. “Weird, I guess. I don’t know the word – suspicion, not normal.”
Under questioning by Tim Rote, one of Cheary’s attorneys, Smith admitted she lied to police about why she took the bus to Visalia.
“I was afraid I was admitting I got heroin,” which might prompt authorities to take her children away, she said.
She said that after Sophia’s death, she received death threats on Facebook postings.
Sophia’s father, Obediah “Obie” Acosta, 25, testified Wednesday that he had not seen Sophia for about a year before her death.
He said in a hallway interview that he thinks about Sophia “every day.”
Acosta lives in Visalia and drives big rig trucks. He’s engaged and is caring for Sophia’s sister, he said.
He and Ericka had the two children together but were not married, he said.
“Just justice,” he said when asked what he wanted from the trial. “I hope he gets what he deserves,” referring to Cheary.
Sophia’s grandfather Sam Coronado of Livingston said in a hallway interview that Sophia’s kidneys were given to a woman in the Bay Area.
The family met with the woman, who put her hand over her heart and told them, “ ‘She’s here.’ We all cried.”