Girl, 4, ‘beaten to death and strung up with belts in closet’ after mum left boyfriend in charge because she ‘needed a break’
Leiliana Wright died from blunt force trauma to her head and stomach in Grand Prairie in March 2016.
Her mother’s boyfriend, Charles Wayne Phifer, is on trial accused of beating the helpless child to death with a bamboo switch fishing rod before hanging her up in the closet with belts.
If convicted, the 36-year-old faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Leiliana’s mother, Jeri Quezada, faces up to 50 years in custody for her role in the child’s death.
Horrific images cataloguing her abuse were shown at Phifer’s trial, in what has been described by one police officer as ‘the worst case of abuse he had ever seen’.
The photographs show the young child with severe bruising to her face, a black eye, a puffy eye and bruising along her jawline.
In some gut-wrenching images, it is clear that the four-year-old was barely able to open one of her eyes due to facial injuries.
Speaking at Phifer’s capital murder trial yesterday, Grand Prairie police Sgt. Brad Makovy spoke of the horrific injuries suffered by Leiliana, telling the court: “It was the worst thing I've ever seen inflicted on a child.”
According to a forensic investigator who took photographs of Leiliana’s battered body, medical staff and police officers were reduced to tears outside her hospital room “because she was severely beaten”.
Just 24 hours before Phifer’s trial began, Quezada testified against her ex-boyfriend.
According to NBCDFW, Quezada claims that Phifer tied up Leiliana in a closet so that she would not be able to sit down.
He allegedly lifted her up by her throat and threw her into the closet with such force that her body left an indentation.
It is claimed he did this because the child has refused to eat – court documents show she had been unwell and vomiting in the days prior to her untimely death.
The girl’s mum claimed that Leiliana’s hands had been bound behind her back with electrical wire, and that something had been tied around her waist when she was hung in the dark closet where she died.
Pictures taken at the crime scene show a bamboo switch fishing rod at the property, believed to have been used to beat the child to death.
Leiliana’s jeans were also shown to the jury, tangled with three belts.
The girl’s mother told police she had left her daughter in her boyfriend’s care as she was “frustrated” and “needed a break”.
She went out for dinner with her mother, leaving her daughter at home.
When she returned, she and Phifer used heroin.
She then enquired about the whereabouts of her child.
Phifer allegedly responded by confirming the girl was in the closet after she ‘fell in the shower’.
The child’s mother, who has a history of child abuse, had previously admitted to authorities that she had kicked and slapped her child as discipline.
However, when questioned in court yesterday as part of Phifer’s murder trial, she claimed to have no memory of telling the police this.
The child’s plight was raised by her grandmother, who sent a photo of the little girl with a black eye to Child Protective Services.
However, despite a visit from a caseworker to the family home in February 2016, Leiliana was allowed to remain in the abusive home where she would die weeks later.
The caseworker failed to do a background check on the mother, which would have revealed that she was a convicted felon with a history of child abuse that saw her three older children removed from her home.
The caseworker and a supervisor were fired as a result of Leiliana’s avoidable death.
Giving evidence in court yesterday, Quezada’s mother described how timid and skittish the child was, having lived with her grandmother for a few months.
Adeline Carr described her little granddaughter as shy and quiet, who stared at things rather than asking for them verbally.
She claimed the child was frightened of noises and would not leave her bedroom until she was given permission to do so.
Quezada pleaded guilty to felony injury to a child in July 2017.
She is now testifying against Phifer as a part of a plea deal, according to Dallas News.
The trial continues today, and a medical examiner is expected to give evidence to the jury.
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Texas leads the nation in the number of child abuse deaths in the past seven years.
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