Stepmom charged in
four-year-old’s death

Woman expected to plead guilty at arraignment today
BY JENNIFER MADISON DAVIS
JOURNAL MANAGING

Heather Ewell, 25, of Lake Stevens, was charged last week with manslaughter in the Jan. 21 beating death of her stepdaughter, four-year-old Sirita Sotelo. Ewell is expected to plead guilty when she is arraigned today in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Deputy prosecutor Craig Mattheson said Sirita was struck repeatedly and suffered both a fractured skull and a lacerated liver. Either injury would have been fatal, he said.

“There was clearly an assault and intent to harm the child,” said Mattheson. “I’m not sure there was intent to kill.”

Ewell, who has no criminal history, faces between six 1/2 and eight 1/2 years in prison. Mattheson said he will ask the judge to impose the longer sentence because of the severity of Sirita’s injuries.

Ewell called 911 the evening of Jan. 21 and said Sirita had stopped breathing after drinking glue gun cleaner, court papers said.

Police and paramedics arrived a few minutes later but it appeared Sirita had been dead for some time.

An autopsy revealed that Sirita had been the victim of a brutal assault earlier that day. The medical examiner concluded she was struck a minimum of four times. A toxicology report found no glue gun cleaner in her system.

Sirita had lived with her biological father and Ewell for about 14 months. She had previously been in foster care after being removed from her mother’s custody because of drug use.

The couple’s four other children, ages 11 months to eight years, were home at the time of Sirita’s death. They were taken into custody by Child Protective Services.

In court papers, Ewell is described as resenting Sirita as the product of her husband’s extramarital affair. Family members said she was depressed and upset about the disruptions Sirita caused in her family, court paper said.

According to the court papers, Ewell allegedly told her grandmother after Sirita’s death, “ I just lost it. I am going to prison.”

Mattheson said he was told by Ewell’s attorney that she will plead guilty. He said no other charges are pending against Ewell, her husband, or her sister, who initially corroborated the “glue gun cleaner” story.

The charges brought only a small measure of relief to Sirita’s foster father, who asked to be identified only as Gary to protect his other foster children.

“My feelings are all over the map. My initial reaction was just incredibly sad. Now that I’ve had a chance to reflect on Sirita’s injuries I am filled with rage that someone would hurt her like this,” he said.

“I guess I had hoped that it was somehow an accident. But there’s no way this was anything but intentional,” he said.

Gary said the details in the court papers lead him to believe Sirita had been abused before the fatal assault. He disagreed with the assertion that Sirita had emotional and cognitive issues.

“If Sirita was such a problem I wish they would have given her back to us. We loved her,” he said.

Gary is pushing for changes to the laws that allowed Sirita to bounce back and forth between her mother’s custody and foster care before being placed with her biological father.

“I hope that people who are reading this will support Sirita’s Law. Most kids don’t end up dead but a lifetime of abuse is just as tragic,” he said.
For information on Sirita’s Law, visit www.siritalaw.com.

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by The Lake Stevens Journal., Lake Stevens, Washington