Step-mom pleads guilty in girl’s death

A Lake Stevens woman faces six to eight years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter in the Jan. 21 beating death of her stepdaughter, four-year-old Sirita Sotelo.

Heather Ewell, 25, of Lake Stevens, entered a guilty plea before Judge George Bowden last Wednesday, March 23 in Snohomish County Superior Court.

The plea agreement avoids a trial on second-degree murder charges. Judge Bowden set the sentencing for May 12.

Prosecutors say Ewell was upset by Sirita’s addition to the family and violently assaulted the child. The little girl, just weeks shy of her fifth birthday, was stuck at least four times and suffered both a fractured skull and a lacerated liver. Either injury would have been fatal within minutes, court papers say.

With no criminal history, Ewell faces between six 1/2 and eight 1/2 years in prison. Deputy prosecutor Craig Mattheson said he will ask the judge for the longest sentence possible.

Mattheson asked the judge to impose $75,000 bail because of the severity of the crime but Ewell was instead released while she awaits sentencing. She may be required to wear an electronic home monitor.

Ewell will be allowed to visit her other children, ages one to eight. The children were removed from the Ewell home by Child Protective Services after Sirita’s death.

Ewell told police that Sirita died after drinking glue gun cleaner. An autopsy revealed Sirita had been assaulted and found no traces of cleaner in Sirita’s system, court papers say.

According to court papers, Ewell told police that Sirita had been in trouble that day. Ewell said she had called her husband at work to ask him to come home and “take Sirita off her hands.”

Ewell’s sister later called 911 to report that the little girl was not breathing. The women’s statement that Sirita was alive at 8:25 p.m. conflicted with a medical examiner’s report that put the time of death hours earlier, court papers said.

Sirita had lived with her biological father and Ewell for about 14 months. According to court papers, Ewell wrote in her diary that she was depressed and upset about Sirita’s addition to the family.

Sirita had been in and out of foster care since birth. Her biological mother, Patricia Sotelo, 40, is in jail on drug charges.

Two of Sirita’s foster families said they would have adopted the little girl had her biological father, John Ewell, not come forward when her mother’s parental rights were terminated.

“These events just drive home again that we must stop returning children to situations where they are repeatedly abused,” said Gary M., one of Sirita’s foster parents. His last name is being withheld to protect the identity of his other foster children.

On a website dedicated to Sirita, Gary wrote, “I am thankful that (Ewell) at least admitted her guilt and spared us all the pain of a long trial. The next step is to say she is sorry, to Sirita’s family, to the foster families, before God, and yes, to Sirita. I doubt the family will ever forgive her. I doubt that I will either. But there is a little angel in heaven that just might.”

Gary also encouraged parents to seek help before resorting to violence. “This is a message to any parent that is having difficulty coping with their children: there is help for you,” he said.

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