Brianna Lopez was born on 14 February, 2002, to Stephanie Lopez and Andy Walters. When she left the hospital, she moved into a trailer with her parents and her uncle, Steven Lopez. Also living in the small trailer was two other children and three other adults. While bringing a new born baby home from hospital is often a jubilant moment filled with love and excitement, this was not the case for Brianna. As soon as Brianna entered the home, she became the victim to unimaginable abuse.
As soon as she entered the house, she was abused. It started off with shouting combined with slaps and pinches when she would cry but this quickly escalated. Soon, she was being kicked, punched, and thrown about the home. She would cry out in pain but instead of helping, Stephanie would ignore her while her father and uncle would laugh. When she was fed up of the crying, Stephanie would bite and pinch her, but most of the torture was inflicted by her Andy and Steven who began to rape and sodomise Brianna when she was just a few weeks old.
The torment finally ended for Brianna, who had endured pain and suffering everyday of her short life, on 18 July, 2002. Her parents and uncle got drunk inside the trailer. Stephanie claimed she had a few beers and headed to bed. At some point during the night, Andy and Steven decided to play a game with little Brianna in which they would toss her up in the air so that she would hit the ceiling and then let her fall to the floor. They explained to police that Brianna would scream and cry during this, to which they would just laugh and carry on.
The following morning, Stephanie awoke and found Brianna crying, which wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. She also noticed fresh cuts and bruises but chose to ignore it. At a later time in the morning, Andy volunteered to change her diaper and when doing so, he wrapped a baby wipe around his finger and molested little Brianna. It was evident that Brianna was on the verge of death yet nobody bothered to call an ambulance or even show her a little bit of care or compassion. Finally, an ambulance was called and Stephanie claimed that Brianna had fallen from a high chair. She was declared dead at 11:10AM at the tender age of 5 months and 5 days.
Medical examiners reported that her little body was riddled with bruises and injuries which indicated prolonged abuse. She had broken ribs, broken legs, broken arms, bleeding on the brain and vaginal and anus lacerations. Brianna was tortured every single day of her life and died without knowing love, care or compassion. Sgt. Ed Miranda described the sexual abuse that Brianna had suffered as “grotesque and gross.”1
Andy was charged with child abuse resulting in death and criminal sexual penetration of a minor, a first-degree felony. Stephanie and Steven were charged with child abuse resulting in death. The other three adults living in the home were not charged and the two other children living in the home were taken into protective custody.2 Shortly thereafter, two more family members were arrested in connection with Brianna’s murder. Her grandmother, Patricia Walters and her uncle, Robert Walters Jr. were both charged with failure to report child abuse or child neglect, a misdemeanor.
The trials were scheduled for September of 2003. District Judge Stephen Bridgforth agreed to move the trial from Dona Ana County due to the extensive coverage of the case. During the trial, the prosecution would argue that all five adults in the home knew about the abuse and allowed it to happen. The defence lawyers, however, suggested that their respective clients didn’t know how the injuries were inflicted on Brianna.
Some of the first witnesses to testify were the ambulance dispatcher and the emergency room nurse who desperately tried to save Brianna’s life. A recording of the 911 call from Stephanie was played out during which she said that Brianna was not breathing and that: “She fell off the bed.” The 911 operator explains how to perform CPR and check for a pulse to which Stephanie replies with: “I can’t feel anything.”
Nurse Yvonne Mouchette next described to the jury how when Brianna came in to the hospital, the bite marks and bruises across her face, head and body were extensive. She said that it was already far too late for Brianna and she had been unable in resuscitating her. She described how before Stephanie was taken to the police station, she was allowed to see Brianna’s body. She said that Stephanie asked to hold Brianna and with her body in her arms, she repeatedly said: “I’m so sorry…” Afterwards, Stephanie asked if she could cover Brianna’s bruises and covered everything except for Brianna’s eyes.3
Detective Ed Miranda took the jury through an interview he had with Brianna’s uncle, Steven, following his arrest. He told the jury that Steven had admitted to raping Brianna and throwing her up in the air and allowing her to come crashing down to the floor. He asked Steven: “Did you have sex with Baby Brianna?” to which Steven replied with: “Yes.” When speaking about how he and Andy threw Brianna up in the air, he said: “We were just playing with her…”
His testimony was followed by some forensic evidence. Homer Campbell, a forensic dentist, said that the 15 bite marks dotted across Brianna’s body had come from at least two adults. However, he could not identify them because they were not distinct enough. A crime lab analyst then testified that tests indicated that blood found in Andy’s underwear had come from Brianna. Supervising medical investigator, Rebecca Irvine, testified that Brianna had suffered skull, arm, leg and rib fractures and that she had sustained extensive bruising to her face, head, and genitals.4
After all of the testimony was presented, it was up to the jury to reach a verdict for all five family members. All five were found guilty of varying charges. Steven and Andy were found guilty of criminal sexual penetration, child abuse resulting in death and other related charges. Stephanie was found guilty of negligent child abuse resulting in death and a lesser abuse charge; she was found not-guilty of intentional child abuse. Patricia and Robert were found guilty of not reporting the abuse. Gary Mitchell, the defence lawyer for Andy, said that the mass prosecution was “an injustice.”5
Andy Walters was sentenced to 63 years in prison and Steven Lopez was sentenced to 57 years in prison. Stephanie Lopez received just 26 years in prison and was released in 2016 on good behaviour.
Citizens of the community paid for Brianna’s casket, burial, and funeral. They also claimed her body as nobody else would. Her grave become a memorial site and was decorated with dozens of flowers and toys. In a disgusting end to a tragic case, Brianna’s family didn’t approve of the compassion by the community and placed a cage around little Brianna’s grave so that nobody could show how loved she was, even after death.
No photograph of Brianna Lopez alive exists. There is only one photograph of Brianna in existence and it was taken on the mortuary slab after she had been murdered. The photograph was photoshopped to remove all of her injuries and bruises and the photograph is kept on the desk of the lead investigator on the case as a commemoration to Brianna and what she could have been.
- El Paso Times, 2 August, 2002 – “Infant Kin Face Charges of Failing to Report Abuse”
- El Paso Times, 23 July, 2002 – “Father Charged with Sexual Abuse”
- Albuquerque Journal, 4 September, 2003 – “Baby Lived, Died With 5 Adults”
- Albuquerque Journal, 9 September, 2003 – “Testimony Says Uncle Raped Baby”
- Associated Press, 13 September, 2003 – “Five Members of New Mexico Family Convicted in Baby’s Death”