Brianna Lopez’s story is a scary demonstration of the terrifying depths of humanity’s evil. Lopez lived five agonizing months in which she was subjected to the worst kinds of abuse. Her cries seemed to fuel the evil perpetrated by her mom, Stephanie Lopez, her dad, Andy Lopez, and her uncle, Steven Lopez.
Lopez passed away as her body gave in to the abuse. Doctors and medical staff identified bruises at different stages of healing, indicating that Lopez suffered every day in the five months that she lived. Even after her death, the Lopez family caged her grave to discourage people from grieving at the location.
Brianna Lopez was beaten, sexually abused, bitten, and tortured
Brianna Lopez’s life changed when she entered the trailer owned by her parents. Almost immediately, the people supposed to be her caregivers shouted, kicked, and punched her. Stephanie ignored her cries as Andy and Steven laughed.
Occasionally, Stephanie reacted to Brianna’s crying by biting and pinching her. On the night before Brianna’s death, Andy and Stephen played a ‘game’ with Brianna, which involved throwing her in the air so she could hit the ceiling and letting her drop to the floor.
Stephanie woke the following day to find Brianna crying, but she held off calling an ambulance. Andy volunteered to change Brianna’s diaper, and while doing so, he molested Brianna. Finally, someone called an ambulance that rushed the dying Brianna to the hospital.
“When we were getting the briefings, we heard what the baby looked like, that there wasn’t a part of her body that was not bruised,” Amy Orlando, deputy secretary for the Department of Public Safety, told Las Cruces Sun-News.
“This was just pure hatred and torture that went on all night, and then as we learned later, had been most of her life – she had never been free of injury and she had never lived a life free of pain.”
Andy and Steven admitted to throwing Brianna, but they denied sexually abusing her, with Walters telling detectives they were ‘not going to find any semen.’ He suggested that he’d penetrated Lopez while changing a dirty diaper.
Prosecutors charged Stephanie, Andy, and Steven with criminal sexual penetration and child abuse resulting in death. Amy Orlando talked to The Las Cruces Sun-News about the sorrow surrounding the trial:
“You had a courtroom that was completely backing those defendants. The reality was that she still was alone. They had killed her, they had put a cage over her gravesite so people couldn’t go and put balloons or flowers, so they had isolated her in death, and now she was along through the trial… It just broke your heart.”
Stephanie was sentenced to 27 years, Steven to 57 years, and Walter to 63 years in prison. “To hear guilty across the board, you just finally realized that Baby Brianna could be free and justice was served and the killer were convicted,” Orlando said.
In 2006, the defendants won an appeal to overturn the convictions. A year later, however, the Supreme Court reinstated the sentences.
Stephanie Lopez was released after serving half her sentence
In September 2016, Stephanie Lopez was granted early release by the department of corrections. Lopez was eligible for ‘good time’ and received credit for the 493 days she served while awaiting trial.
Immediately after her release, Stephanie began her parole in Texas. Susana Martinez, the prosecutor who charged Lopez, objected to Brianna’s release. She said (per Las Cruces Sun News):
“[Brianna] was killed by other men who tortured and raped her, and her mom was nowhere to be found. She should not be walking the streets, of this state or anywhere else.”
Orlando-Antonio Carrillo-Jimenez, the spokesperson for the Baby Brianna Foundation, also objected to Lopez’s release. “There is no amount of time in prison or any other punishment that would ever make amends for the horrific actions against Baby Brianna,” Orlando-Antonio said in a statement.
Maria Perez spent time with Stephanie Lopez in prison. Perez told Action 7 News that Lopez was a quiet character who rarely had trouble with anyone. “Stephanie was quiet,” Perez said. “I never felt any kind of problems with Stephanie.”
Stephanie occasionally requested prayer, Perez said. “I told her that God still loves her no matter what, and that repentance is always available. My wish for her is that she has found something in her spirit that would lead her to be the best she can be, and most of all find repentance,” Perez added.
Andy and Steven Lopez remain in prison. Walters might not serve his entire 63-year sentence as he’s eligible for good time.
Brianna’s death inspired a bill introducing a mandatory 30-year sentence for child neglect convicts
Brianna Lopez inspired the Baby Brianna Bill, which instituted a mandatory 30-year sentence for convicts of child abuse resulting in death. The sentence only applies in cases where the child is younger than 13 years old.
Susana Martinez told Las Cruces Sun-News that the law should encompass children below 18 years old. “I’m fighting for it again, to include all children,” Susana said. “Children are anyone under 18, not [just] children under the age of 13.”
Lindell Wright, the chief detective assigned to Brianna’s case, supports the move to have the law broadened to include all children. He said:
“Brianna’s case did expedite the process of changing the sentencing process, and it will be impacting on all child abuse cases. I hope that the communities not forget Brianna or Victoria, and that we as New Mexico moved forward and continue in preventing and being proactive in child abuse.”