September 8, 2005
A woman portrayed by prosecutors as evil was sentenced Wednesday to 60 years in prison for fatally injuring her 6-year-old stepdaughter by punching her in the stomach.
Maria Eugenia Lopez, 26, pleaded guilty in June to child abuse resulting in the death of Rosa Arana and child abuse causing serious bodily injury. Deputy District Attorney Will Bain said Rosa endured weeks or months of abuse from Lopez before the punch that severed her small bowel, killing her. He asked for a 70-year sentence, the maximum under a plea deal, guaranteeing she’d spend at least 30 years in prison. “There is no Cinderella story here,” Bain said, his voice cracking. “There is no happy ending.” Teachers, social workers and family friends saw welts, scratches and bruises on Rosa weeks before her death, showing the abuse was not a one-time occurrence, Bain said. Lopez’s blow caused the child to start vomiting and eventually pass out, Bain said. Still, Lopez didn’t take Rosa to the hospital, didn’t call 911 and didn’t alert a neighbor to do so until more than six hours after she punched the girl, Bain said. Bain choked back tears when he described how Rosa told a playmate three days before she died that she loved Lopez but was scared of her. Rosa told the playmate she knew she was going to die soon and asked her friend to put a Barbie in her coffin, Bain said. In pleading guilty, Lopez told Judge Kirk Samelson she became frustrated with Rosa but didn’t mean to severely injure her. She said she tried to hit the girl she called Rosie in the arm but hit her stomach when the child turned. Lopez took time to regain her composure after Bain’s remarks, then turned to Samelson. “I cared about Rosie a lot,” she said. “I worried about her well-being.” Lopez’s father, grandmother and other family members asked Samelson for leniency. They described her as a good mother who made a tragic mistake. “She’s a very good person,” her grandmother, Amarzelia Villanueva, said in Spanish. “She’s not like everyone thinks she is.” Samantha Lembergs, a Colorado Springs police detective, expressed sorrow that the family seemingly took Lopez’s side during sentencing, leaving only police and prosecutors to speak on Rosa’s behalf. She fought tears when she described how she stayed with Rosa until her death after doctors said she couldn’t be saved. “I know I should be more professional as a police officer,” she said, “but watching a little girl die gets to you.” Lopez’s attorney, public defender Dennis McGuire, said the family is trying to make the best of a bad situation. He said Bain painted Lopez as far worse than she is. “Maria is not the evil stepmother that the district attorney is trying to make her out to be,” he said. Rosa wasn’t breathing when police arrived June 22, 2004, at the apartment at 1420 Michelle Court, near Fountain and Murray boulevards. She was resuscitated but died later that day at Memorial Hospital. Samelson sentenced Lopez to 40 years for the blow to the stomach and 20 more for failing to seek medical help. “There’s nothing more important than our children,” Samelson said. “Rosie should not have had to live in pain and fear and should not have died the way she died.”