Christopher Cheary, convicted of the brutal assault and murder of 3-year-old Sophia Acosta, was sentenced to death in Fresno, California on Jan. 30. He will become the 15th person from Tulare County on California's death row.
Cheary was found guilty in November 2016 after a three-month trial, according to the Visalia Times-Delta. The sentencing officially caps a nearly seven-year ordeal for Acosta's family, but appeals and California's laws could prevent Cheary's execution.
California has 749 death row inmates, but there hasn't been an execution in the state since 2006.
Nevertheless, Acosta's family was able to gain some closure by addressing Cheary at his hearing. Sam Coronado, Sophia's great-grandfather, who attended every day of Cheary's trial, addressed the court.
"She was taken away. There is still one more court date I might miss," Coronado said, referring to Cheary's judgment before God.
Sophia was assaulted on May 7, 2011 in Visalia, California, reports The Washington Post. Sophia lived with her mother, Ericka Smith, her little sister, and Cheary, Smith's live-in boyfriend. Smith and Cheary had been living together for five months at that point, and Smith left the girls alone with Cheary to buy heroin for the couple.
Later in the day, Smith returned, the two smoked the heroin she purchased, and then at some point later, Cheary told Smith he had heard a noise upstairs. According to Cheary's attorneys, Cheary checked on the girls twice, but didn't see anything wrong.
The third time Cheary checked on the girls he discovered Sophia lying on the floor, not breathing. He removed her clothes and placed her in the tub to revive her. Smith called 911.
But according to prosecutors, Cheary had used Smith's absence to viciously assault Sophia. As reported by the Fresno Bee, police were called to the apartment. Sophia was moved to a hospital where she died of her injuries on May 11.
Cheary maintains his innocence in the matter, and claims Sophia's death is a medical mystery. His parents have been in court, supporting him throughout the ordeal. His father, Charles Cheary, asserted, "They won this part of the battle, but the war isn't over. I know my son is innocent and we're going to keep fighting until he gets a fair trial."
Coronado is more certain of his guilt. "What he did is unforgivable," he said. "All we have are beautiful memories. She lives in us, our hearts and minds."