A 4-year-old Texas girl was beaten and “strung up” in a closet, with her hands bound behind her back, in the hours before she died, her mother testified.
So began the murder trial of Charles Wayne Phifer, charged with killing Leiliana Wright, the daughter of his girlfriend at the time, Jeri Quezada, on March 12, 2016, according to the Dallas Morning News.
Quezada, 32, and Phifer, 36, were both high on heroin when they beat Leiliana, according to police. She died of blunt-force injuries to the head and stomach, officials said.
Quezada has already admitted her role in her daughter’s death, pleading guilty to felony injury to a child in 2017 as part of a plea bargain that will jail her for up to 50 years, the newspaper reported.
Quezada testified Wednesday against her former boyfriend, Phifer. "My daughter deserves justice," she said. "I know where I went wrong. I'm not the only one who did it."
She said that in the days and hours before Leiliana’s death she hit the child, inlcuding using a bamboo switch; Phifer hit the child also, she said.
"She was talking back a lot," Quezada testified. "It frustrated me because I didn't understand what was going on."
On the day Leiliana died, Quezada said, she returned to the apartment she shared with Phifer, Leiliana and her 18-month-old son and shot-up heroin with Phifer in the bathroom. After that, Quezada asked Phifer where her daughter was.
Phifer led her to a closet, and opened the door, revealing Leiliana, who was “strung up,” Quezada said, hanging from a rod, with her hands were bound behind her back with electrical wire. Somehow, Quezada said, she was also bent forward.
After asking Phifer to untie her daughter, Quezada said she made the girl a peanut butter sandwich but that Leiliana couldn’t eat it. Phifer lifted the girl into the air and poured Pedialyte down her throat. Leiliana vomited. Phifer hit her.
"I seen him pick her up by the throat and threw her against the closet," Quezada said.
Minutes later, Leiliana stopped breathing and the couple called 911.
A firefighter who responded to the scene -- who also testified Wednesday, after Quezada -- detailed what happened next.
"I picked up the little girl and she was limp. She was cold," Grand Prairie firefighter Andrew Grondin said. The girl had a black eye, was covered in bruises and bore ligature marks on her wrists where she had been tied, Grondin said.
Grondin rushed Leiliana to waiting ambulance, and piled inside with the entire crew from his fire truck, leaving it -- lights flashing, doors open -- as they sped to the hospital. There, doctors spent 30 minutes trying to revive Leiliana, Grondin said, but failed
Leiliana’s death exposed staffing shortages in the Texas child welfare system. Social workers had been warned months earlier that Leiliana was in danger, but failed to protect her, according to the Dallas Morning News.
After Leiliana's death, her caseworker and the supervisor on her case were fired, a special investigator resigned. Even stingy state legislators called for reform of the Texas child welfare system, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
[Photo: Dallas County Jail]