A Lexington County mother has been sentenced to 38 years in prison on homicide by child abuse charges in connection with the 2017 asphyxiation death of her four-year-old daughter.
Cynthia Estrada-Lopez, 28, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced by S.C. Circuit Judge Walton McLeod IV after a 90-minute hearing Thursday at the Lexington County courthouse during which prosecutors presented evidence about the case, which 11th Circuit Solicitor Rick Hubbard called "one of the most tragic we have seen."
Lilly Lopez had been taped to a bed, her mouth taped up and when she vomited during the time she was restrained, the liquid wound up in her lungs, causing her death from suffocation, according to evidence in the case.
The girl had also been been beaten and had bruises about her head, back and chin, according to evidence.
In an interview Friday, Hubbard and lead prosecutor on the case, deputy solicitor Suzanne Mayes, said when Lexington County sheriff's deputies and medical personnel first came to Estrada-Lopez's house around 9 p.m. on July 31, 2017, after getting a 911 call, the child was unresponsive and the tape restraints had been removed.
Lilly was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Estrada-Lopez and her husband, David Steadman, initially told officers that Lilly had just collapsed.
But in investigating the case, a State Law Enforcement Division investigator specially trained in interviewing children - called a forensic interviewer - talked with one of Lilly's siblings, who told the agent about witnessing the mother tape Lilly to the bed and taping her mouth shut.
That interview took place at the Dickerson Children's Advocacy Center in Lexington. The center is an independent agency that provides comprehensive assessment and treatment services to physically and sexually abused children, prosecutor Mayes said.
Provided with that evidence, investigators armed with a search warrant went back to the house on Nazareth Road near Red Bank and found remnants of the restraining tape in a trash bag. Confronted with the evidence, Lopez-Estrada confessed to restraining the child. Her husband, David Steadman, said he did not take part in the child's taping, but he confessed to failing to provide medical help when he should have.
Lopez-Estrada told officers her daughter had been "gasping for air" and that she had waited "at least maybe an hour" before calling 911, Mayes said.
"The reason she said she waited was that, 'I did not want it to look worse' than it already did," Mayes said.
Assistant solicitor Robby McNair assisted in the prosecution.
Estrada-Lopez's lawyer, public defender Jael Gilreath, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Hubbard said, "The death of this precious 4-year-old is one of the most tragic cases that we have seen and has had a lasting impact on our office, law enforcement and the (Lexington County) coroner's office. Lilly's death is incomprehensible to us and is compounded by the callous nature of her mother's actions."
Estrada-Lopez's case would have been handled before now except for various matters that caused delay, such as COVID-19 and the lengthy 2019 death penalty trial of Tim Jones for killing his five children, prosecutors said.
In February, 2020, Estrada-Lopez's husband Steadman, now 28, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Circuit Judge Eugene Griffith after a five-day jury trial. He is now in the S.C. Department of Corrections.
The jury found Steadman guilty of homicide by child abuse under a section of that law that includes neglect. Steadman did not take part in Lilly's killing but he admitted seeing Lilly restrained to the bed with tape and suffering medical distress and that he had failed to provide necessary medical care, prosecutors said
Noah Feit contributed to this story.