Cause of death of 5-year-old Sierra Patino found dead in closet ruled 'undetermined'

Sierra Patino is seen in these undated family photos assembled on Sept. 4, 2019.
Sierra Patino is seen in these undated family photos assembled on Sept. 4, 2019. (Family Photos)

HOUSTON – The medical examiner's office announced Tuesday that the cause of death of a little girl found dead in a closet in September was "undetermined." 

Sierra Patino's body was found by her grandmother wrapped in a blanket in a closet at a northwest Houston apartment on Sept. 1. At the time of the discovery, police said it appeared as though Sierra had been dead for several days. 

Sierra's mother, Priscilla Torres, and her boyfriend, Santiago Esparza Jr., were charged with tampering with evidence in connection with Sierra's death. Each of them told police conflicting stories about what led to the child's death. 

Initially, Torres told police that she was giving her daughter a bath and that there was a bottle of toilet cleaner within reach of the child. She said she left the bathroom for a few minutes and when she came back, the bottle was empty and floating in the bathwater, leaving burns on her daughter's face. Torres said she feared Child Protective Services would take her daughter away, so she didn't take her to the hospital.

Later, Torres changed her story and told police Esparza bathed her daughter, and she discovered bruises and burns on her forehead after he gave her the bath.

Esparza said from jail that Torres was lying and the burns were on Sierra's face for days before she died. He said he was at work when Sierra died, and Torres was frantic when he came home. 

The Harris County District Attorney's Office is investigating to determine if charges, additional or current, are appropriate in this case.