A lifetime of sordid, depressing circumstances was laid out in a Snohomish County courtroom yesterday, but it didn't result in a reduced...
A lifetime of sordid, depressing circumstances was laid out in a Snohomish County courtroom yesterday, but it didn’t result in a reduced sentence for a woman who killed her stepdaughter.
Instead, the judge followed a prosecution recommendation and sentenced Heather Ewell to 8 ½ years in prison for causing the death of Sirita Sotelo, 4, in January.
Superior Court Judge George Bowden imposed the sentence after hearing Ewell, 25, and her attorney plead for leniency. The standard sentencing range is 6-½ to 8-½ years.
“I don’t find that it serves as a justification or excuse for what happened,” the judge said.
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“This was a woman who never intended to hurt anyone,” argued her attorney, Mark Mestel, asking for a sentence of four to six years.
But deputy prosecuting attorney Craig Matheson attributed the death to “appalling acts” of violence.
“It is inconceivable anyone could be so depressed, so angry they would commit the acts of violence that the defendant did in this case,” he said.
Ewell pleaded guilty in March to manslaughter. Sirita was found dead Jan. 21 in the Ewell home in the 2500 block of 101st Avenue Northeast in Lake Stevens.
Investigators determined she’d been beaten severely enough to fracture her skull and sever her liver. Ewell at first said the girl had drunk glue-gun cleaner and hit her head in the shower, but she later entered the guilty plea.
After the sentencing, Sirita’s former foster father described her brief life.
“She was marked by drugs from birth to death,” said Gary M., who asked that his last name not be published to protect the identities of his other foster children. He had been Sirita’s foster father before she went to live with the Ewell family in the fall of 2003.
The circumstances of Ewell’s life described in court included her having been raped when she was 12, having a drug-addicted father with a history of felonies, and having been a victim of sexual abuse as a teenager; the judge remarked that Ewell had become a mother in the ninth grade.
“I think everyone agrees there was no intent to harm Sirita,” the judge said, adding that Ewell apparently had been a good mother to her four other children but suffered from depression, post-traumatic-stress syndrome and other mental difficulties.
Ewell stood before the judge and read a statement in a barely audible voice.
“My intentions were to help Sirita, never to harm her in any way,” she said. “I tried so hard … but she struggled every day, never smiled.”
Ewell said that during the 14 months she cared for Sirita, conditions became “more difficult for me day by day,” with the pressures of raising her own children, school commitments and other factors in her life becoming too much to bear.
“We asked multiple times for counseling, but it was never granted,” she said. “I loved Sirita just as much as my other children.”
On the night Sirita died, “I do remember that I lost it; my mind went blank,” she said. “Despite all these things that happened, I know I am responsible for my actions.”
Sirita was the daughter of Heather’s husband, John Ewell, and a woman he had an affair with, Patricia Sotelo. Sotelo lost custody of Sirita and is in jail for unrelated drug convictions.
Georgeann Buoy, Ewell’s mother-in-law, said the sentence was not unexpected.
“We were pretty much ready for it,” she said. “She’s a good woman. Heather is a good mother.”
Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or firstname.lastname@example.org