HOUSTON - A man wanted after a 5-year-old girl's body was found in a closet on Labor Day was arrested Friday afternoon, according to charging documents.
An arrest warrant was issued Friday for Santiago Esparza Jr., 30. He is wanted on a charge of tampering with evidence in connection with the death of Sierra Patino.
Esparza is the boyfriend of Sierra's mother, Priscilla Torres, who has been arrested and charged with tampering with evidence in connection with her daughter's death.
Esparza appeared before a judge Saturday after he was arrested and charged with tampering with evidence -- namely a human corpse.
Prosecutors asked for no bond because he is a habitual offender.
According to prosecutors, Esparza has multiple prior convictions, including convictions for possession of a prohibited item in a correctional facility from 2014 and injury to a child from 2011.
Ezparza's attorney pointed out that to be a true habitual, he would have had to complete his sentence and commit a crime multiple times. Since his 2014 conviction happened while he was in prison, he does not meet the qualifications to be a habitual offender.
In light of that, prosecutors decided to change their stance and ask for a $100,000 bond, which the judge granted due to his extensive, violent criminal history.
According to court documents, Esparza has lived in Houston his entire life and he has three children ages 5, 9 and 11.
Prosecutors said Torres may have lied in her initial statement because she feared retaliation from Esparza given his past.
According to court records, Torres initially told police she was giving her daughter a bath and she left the child alone for a few minutes and when she returned, there was an empty bottle of toilet bowl cleaner floating next to the child.
Court documents revealed that, after more questioning, Torres changed her story and said her boyfriend had given the child a bath while she made dinner.
"Torres stated that on Aug 23rd that it was the Defendant (Esparza) who was giving the Complainant (Sierra) a bath while she was cooking macaroni. Torres would go on to state the door was shut and the Defendant refused to open it," explained the court documents. "Torres states that she opened the door and observed the Defendant with the Complainant in the tub, exhibiting what appeared to be burns and a possible bruise on her forehead. Torres states that these injuries were not present on the Complainant before being placed in the bath tub."
The court document goes on to say that the mother told investigators that Esparza denied any wrongdoing and said, "It was an accident."
Four days later, the little girl continued to show signs of illness, wasn't eating and was throwing up and losing consciousness, according to the court documents.
The mother told the detective that she and Esparza decided to give the child a shower Aug. 27 because she was losing consciousness. They then put her on the bed and "began doing chest compressions with one hand, while simultaneously, performing rescue breathing while holding the Complainants nose shut during this process," explained the court documents.
Torres told investigators that after a minute, the child died. She put the child's body in a green romper and accused Esparza of removing the child from the bed and placing her in the closet.
They stayed in the apartment for three days, until Aug. 30, while the 5-year-old's body was inside the closet.
The little girl's mother told authorities that on Aug. 30, her boyfriend locked the front door and applied an interior chain lock, then exited the back patio through a sliding door.
Authorities said surveillance video confirmed that and that at about 6:50 a.m. on that day, the couple was seen jumping over the patio wall.
She told authorities, according to the court records, that they went to Esparza's father’s home in an older model red GMC truck and then switched into a black Honda SUV, which investigators said was captured on surveillance video.
An investigator stated Esparza picked up a paycheck and that for the next three days, the couple stayed at a hotel in Jacinto City and visited Galveston.
Torres told authorities that on Sept. 2., she "insisted that the Defendant drive her back to the location of her dead child. Torres said that later that day, she called 911."
At a hearing Thursday, prosecutors revealed they planned to charge Esparza in connection with the case.
"We believe he was in the apartment with Priscilla Torres and that they acted together," prosecutors said. "(They) put the body in the closet and then left the scene for multiple days before Priscilla Torres reported this to police."
Torres is being held in jail on $50,000 bail. Her attorney said he believes a jury will find her not guilty in the death of her daughter.
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