FRESNO – The 20-year-old man accused of killing a 3-year-old Exeter girl pleaded not guilty in court on Monday.
On May 7, Exeter police responded to a call about a child not breathing in an apartment in the 800 block of West Visalia Road. They found the toddler, Sophia Acosta, lifeless on the floor, police said. She was taken to the hospital but died four days later. Authorities said that an autopsy revealed Sophia had died from blunt force trauma.
On June 2, police arrested Chris Cheary in Sophia’s death. Cheary was the live-in boyfriend of Sophia’s mother, Ericka Smith, who has been called a “person of interest” in the case. She has not been arrested.
In addition to facing murder charges, Cheary also faces charges of child abuse causing death, sodomy on a child under 14 years old, and forcible lewd acts on a child. The last two charges include special allegations of torture.
A criminal complaint by Exeter police claims Sophia was physically and sexually abused in the last days of her life.
Because of these special circumstances surrounding the murder, prosecutors say that Cheary could face the death penalty. Cheary pleaded not guilty to all the charges at the Tulare Superior Court on Monday.
Outside of court, Sophia’s uncle Nick Williams said that he hopes Cheary “gets everything that’s coming to him.” He also said that the Sophia’s family will attend all of Cheary’s court hearings and want to “see it through ‘til the end.”
Cheary’s next hearing is scheduled for June 16.