Priscilla Torres, the mother of a 5-year-old girl whose body was found in a Houston apartment closet, was charged Tuesday, Sept. 3, with tampering with evidence, police said.
Her boyfriend Santiago Esparza, whom prosecutors say is a known gang member that served as a maintenance worker at the apartment complex of the crime scene, has also been charged in connection with the case, reported 11 Alive.
Houston Police released a notice Sep. 3 on their official Twitter account, saying:
“WANTED: A warrant for the same felony charge of tampering with evidence is now filed against Santiago Esparza, Jr., 30. This is a 2016 booking photo of Esparza. If you know his whereabouts, please call HPD Homicide 713-308-3600 or @CrimeStopHOU 713-222-TIPS. ”
Police are investigating Torres for having a role in the death of her daughter. Sierra Patino’s body was found by relatives Monday and authorities say Torres was at the apartment when officers arrived. Police believe Sierra’s body was in the closet for days.
The 27-year-old Torres was charged with tampering with evidence related to a human corpse. Torres could face additional charges as the investigation continues, police said in a statement.
WANTED: A warrant for the same felony charge of tampering with evidence is now filed against Santiago Esparza, Jr., 30. This is a 2016 booking photo of Esparza. If you know his whereabouts, please call HPD Homicide 713-308-3600 or @CrimeStopHOU 713-222-TIPS. #hounews pic.twitter.com/QEBxP8MjVv
— Houston Police (@houstonpolice) September 6, 2019
She is being held at the Harris County Jail and it’s not clear if she has an attorney to speak on her behalf.
Investigators are waiting on the results of an autopsy to determine how Sierra died.
Torres told the police on Aug. 23 that she and her daughter had moved into Esparza’s apartment and that he offered to give the child a bath.
According to Torres, the bathroom door was closed and when she opened it she saw burns from chemicals on the girl’s skin as well as bruises on her forehead.
Prosecutors, however, say that the aforementioned story was changed. According to 11 Alive, she said initially that it was she who was giving a bath to the girl, and that she left her alone for a few minutes and upon her return she saw an empty bottle of toilet cleaner in the tub.
It wasn’t clear whether Sierra lived in the apartment with her mother, Houston police spokesman Kese Smith said earlier Tuesday. It’s also not clear if the girl’s death was accidental or caused deliberately.
Torres claimed that she and Esparza put Sierra to bed that night without calling emergency services because she was afraid Child Protective Services would take Sierra away. She said she thought the skin damage would heal on its own.
Torres said that the girl died on Aug. 27. She told police that she wrapped the corpse in a blanket and put her in a closet without alerting the police.
“She’s innocent until proven guilty. At this point, she’s innocent,” defense attorney Bryan Savoy said, 11 Alive reported. “We do not litigate cases in the media. We litigate cases in the courtroom.”
Prosecutor Gilbert Sawtelle said: “We believe (Santiago Esparza) was in the apartment with Priscilla Torres and that they acted together put the body in the closet, and then left the scene for multiple days before Priscilla Torres reported this to police.”