Decision on bid to overturn sentences not likely for months.
Hundreds of spectators packed a Las Cruces courtroom Thursday as a three-judge panel of the New Mexico Court of Appeals heard arguments for overturning verdicts in one of the city’s most disturbing cases of child abuse resulting in death, according to a report on the Las Cruces Sun-News Web site.
Five-month-old Brianna Lopez died on July 19, 2002, after a night of horrific abuse. The baby’s father, Andrew Walters, and uncle, Steven Lopez, were convicted in September 2003 of rape and child abuse resulting in death, and the baby’s mother, Stephanie Lopez, was found guilty of negiligent child abuse resulting in death.
The baby’s grandmother and another uncle were found guilty of failing to report child abuse.
Defense attorneys argued that a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision barring the use of defendants’ statements to police that incriminated other defendants should be barred unless the person making the statement testified. In the Baby Brianna case, all five defendants gave statements but none testified at trial, the Sun-News reported.
Attorneys also argued that their trials should have been severed rather than tried as a group.
Stephanie Lopez, who is serving a 27-year prison sentence, tried to stop the abuse but statements by other defendants indicated otherwise, her attorney argued, according to the Sun-News.
Walters, who was sentenced to 57 years in prison, recanted an earlier statement to police that he tossed the baby in the air causing her death, but other defendants’ statements supported the original confession, his lawyer contended.
The attorney for Steven Lopez, the baby’s uncle, who is serving a 51-year sentence, made similar arguments, according to the Sun-News account.
The three-judge panel is not likely to issue its decisions for several months, the paper reported.