A Texas mother and her boyfriend have been arrested for allegedly beating the woman’s 4-year-old daughter to death.
Jeri Quezada, 30, and Charles Phifer, 34, are suspected of beating Leiliana Wright with a belt and a bamboo stick, tying her up in a closet and throwing her against a wall after they found the girl drinking her brother’s juice.
Wright died in the hospital a day after she was found unconscious at the scene. The autopsy report concluded she died of blunt-force trauma to her head and stomach, according to the Dallas Morning News. The little girl was also found with whip marks across her back.
Quezada told authorities her daughter had fallen in the shower, resulting in the wounds. But investigators have ruled her death a homicide.
Quezada and Phifer each have a drug addiction history and prior criminal records. Court documents reveal that both used heroin at the time of Wright’s beating, WFAA reports.
Phifer claims Wright was his “little buddy” and that he would never hurt her. “I loved Lilly [Leiliana] like she was my own,” he told WFAA, against the advice of his defense lawyer. “I miss her every day. I still can’t quite believe that this has happened.”
Phifer pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance in 2012 and 2014, while Quezada pleaded guilty to a burglary charge in 2010.
Before Wright’s death, her grandmother Alisa Clakley provided Child Protective Services with photos of bruises on the girl’s face.
The 4-year-old’s death comes in the wake of accusations that Texas CPS frequently ignored many alleged cases of child abuse.
After the Leiliana’s death, a caseworker and supervisor who worked on her case were both terminated and a special investigator resigned.
“If we had done something sooner, I don’t know. I don’t know,” Clakley told KXAS.
Quezada and Phifer are indicted for first degree felony injury to a child, though their court dates have not yet been scheduled. If convicted, they could spend the rest of their lives behind bars.