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Death sentence handed down to former Turlock resident guilty of toddlers murder
chris cheary
Christopher Cheary

A former Turlock resident has been sentenced to death for the sexual abuse and murder of his girlfriend’s three-year-old daughter.

A jury had previously convicted Christopher Cheary, 25, of first-degree murder, with the special circumstances of torture and sexual penetration in the death of Sophia Acosta, 3, of Exeter. On Nov. 30 the same Tulare County jury read their verdict to send Cheary to death row for his crimes. A formal sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 30.

Cheary was the boyfriend of Sophia’s mother and had been left alone with the child and her baby sister on May 7, 2011, while the mother, Erika Smith, was allegedly buying heroin in Visalia. Smith testified she was the one who found Sophia and called 911.

Paramedics were called to the apartment in Exeter on May 7, 2011, for a report of an injured child. In the apartment they found Sophia lying unconscious and naked on the floor. Medics were able to revive her pulse and rushed her to Kaweah Delta Medical Center. Hours later she was flown to Children’s Hospital Central California in Madera. She died from a brain hemorrhage on May 11.

The autopsy revealed Sophia suffered severe blunt force trauma that caused her to bleed extensively. A nurse from Kaweah Delta Medical Center testified during the trial that she noticed visible bruises on Sophia, including around her buttocks and that she was bleeding from her genital area, according to the Visalia Times.

Almost two weeks after Sophia’s death, Cheary was interviewed by CBS 47 television. In the interview Cheary admits he and Smith had been using heroin in the apartment before Smith left.  He said he put the girls to bed and then heard a sound in the girls’ bedroom and went in and found Sophia unconscious on the floor. Cheary told CBS 47 that Sophia likely hit her head on a small metal shopping cart next to her bed. Cheary’s defense argued there never was any torture or sexual penetration and that she died from a blood clotting disorder.

Weeks after the toddler’s death Cheary was taken into custody in Turlock and transported back to Exeter to face the charges against him.