A Colorado Springs woman whose 9-month-old son drowned in a bathtub of scalding water while she was across the street buying cigarettes and chicken wings pleaded guilty Friday to felony child abuse.
Estella Toleafoa faces 24 to 48 years in prison at her Jan. 20 sentencing.
According to an arrest affidavit, Toleafoa, 23, told police she left Erich Tyler Jr. and his 2-year-old half-brother, Jamari Toleafoa, naked in the tub with about an inch of water in it on March 8 while she went out to buy milk at a nearby convenience store.
Instead, she went to a convenience store to buy cigarettes and to a restaurant to buy chicken wings — and retuned to find Erich floating lifeless in a nearly full bathtub.
An autopsy ruled the cause of death was drowning and scalding.
According to a Colorado Springs police investigation, Toleafoa was gone for approximately 20 minutes. The other boy was uninjured.
The dead child's father is a Fort Carson soldier who was serving in Afghanistan.
In a tearful address to the court, Toleafoa said she never meant to harm the children and only wanted to pick up food while they bathed.
“I feel like I failed to do my job as a mom,” Toleafoa said in a halting voice.
“I failed to protect them, and I want to take responsibility for what I did and my actions.”
She added: “I never thought anything would happen. It never crossed my mind.”
Prosecutors agreed to drop a first-degree murder charge and a second felony child abuse count in exchange for Toleafoa’s guilty plea to child abuse resulting in death.
The murder charge, which alleged that Toleafoa knowingly placed the child in a situation “practically certain” to result in death, could have resulted in life in prison without parole.
Prosecutor Amy Fitch said after the hearing that the plea agreement was made with the approval of the child’s family, who were not present in court Friday. She called the plea "an appropriate resolution" to the case.
Toleafoa’s public defender, Julian Rosielle, declined to comment.
Fourth Judicial District Judge G. David Miller is expected to impose her sentence when Toleafoa returns to court in January.