Jurors hear gripping testimony from mother of toddler in Christopher Cheary murder trial

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Today, jurors in the South Valley finally got to hear from a key witness in the tragic case of 3-year-old girl who died five years ago.

Sophia Acosta's mother, Erika Smith, took the witness stand for most of the day. Prosecutors showed her photos that were taken at Mooney Grove Park in Visalia on May 6th, 2011. One shows three-year-old Sophia Acosta surrounded by family, including her sister, mother, and her mother's boyfriend, Christopher Cheary. The next day, Sophia was found unresponsive at an apartment in Exeter.

During court on Thursday, Smith testified that she found her daughter unconscious, and nearly naked with vomit on her mouth-- on the floor of the children's bedroom upstairs. Prosecutors then played Smith's frantic 911 call.

"After the call of 911, I went back upstairs to find Chris in the bathtub with Sophia's body with water running and I asked what was he doing," Smith said.

Cheary is charged with raping and killing Sophia Acosta.

Smith said she let Cheary stay at her apartment because she wanted to help him get clean from drugs. They eventually started dating, but it was not a picture-perfect relationship.

Smith said Cheary was abusive towards her on a regular basis.

"There were times where he'd choke me out and push me against the wall, and there was times that he threw picture frames at me, there were times that (he was) just verbally abusive. Belittling me, secluding me, making me feel worthless," Smith said.

Smith testified the couple had a fight the morning of May 7th. She then left for Visalia to buy heroin for Cheary, while he stayed home with the girls. When she got back, she said they watched TV while the girls were sleeping.

It's unclear exactly when or who found Sophia in an unconscious state first.

Paramedics eventually arrived, and Sophia was brought to Kaweah Delta and then Valley Children's, where she died several days later.

Prosecutors say she suffered blunt force trauma and massive bleeding. Cheary's defense team said there was no rape, torture, or murder, and the case is a medical mystery.

Smith has never been charged in the case.

If convicted of killing her, Cheary faces the death penalty. The trial is expected to go through mid-October.
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