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Former resident charged with 3-year-olds brutal death
chris cheary
Chris Cheary

The former Turlock resident under a cloud of suspicion for the death of a toddler in the South Valley has been arrested by the Exeter Police department on multiple charges including murder, torture and sexual assault.

Chris Cheary, 20, was taken into custody Thursday night in Stanislaus County by Exeter police and transported back to Exeter. He is scheduled to be arraigned Monday in Tulare County Superior Court on charges of murder with special circumstances, which encompass charges of sodomy, lewd acts upon a child, and torture. He is also facing additional charges of child abuse causing death, sodomy with a person under 14 years, and forcible lewd acts upon a child.

The special circumstances could make Cheary eligible for the death penalty.

All the charges lodged against Cheary stem from the death of 3-year-old Sophia Acosta.

The case began on the afternoon of May 7, when police and emergency personnel were dispatched to an Exeter apartment for a report of an injured child. In the apartment they found 3-year-old Sophia Acosta 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 results indicate the toddler died from blunt force trauma, according to the Exeter Police Department.

Cheary was the live-in boyfriend of the toddler’s mother, Ericka Smith. Smith has not been arrested, but remains a person of interest in the case.

Almost two weeks after Acosta’s death, Cheary was interviewed by CBS 47 television. In the interview Cheary admits he and Smith were in the apartment using heroin. He said they heard a sound in the girls’ bedroom and went in and found Acosta unconscious on the floor. Cheary told CBS 47 that Acosta likely hit her head on a small metal shopping cart next to her bed.

The Exeter Police Department did not provide many details about the arrest or evidence against Cheary, stating that the investigation is ongoing. There had been a considerable public outcry in the Exeter community for an arrest to be made.

The Exeter Police Department would not say what town in Stanislaus County Cheary was taken into custody. Detective Daniel Green said Cheary’s exact whereabouts were not known, but investigators knew what area he was staying in.

Cheary is a former resident of Turlock, having attended schools in the Turlock Unified School District and has family ties in the Turlock and Hilmar area.

To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.