Trial ordered in 4-year-old girl's death

Jeff Lopez Jr.
Jeff Lopez Jr. Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department

A Keyes man must stand trial on suspicion of sexually assaulting and murdering his 4-year-old stepdaughter, Judge John G. Whiteside said Wednesday at the close of a preliminary hearing that stretched over two days in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

Jeff Artemo Lopez Jr., 26, was arrested May 29 after authorities were called to a home on Esmar Road to care for the unconscious preschooler.

Adrianna Jimenez was resuscitated and rushed to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, then transported to Children's Hospital Oakdale, where she died three days later.

A forensic pathologist told the court that the child had signs of sexual abuse, fresh bruises all over her body and retinal hemorrhages that suggested she had been shaken violently.

"If any of us saw somebody shake a baby that hard, we would have been horrified," said Dr. Robert Lawrence, who suggested that brute force would be needed to cause such fatal injuries.

The child's mother, Mary Francis Ochoa, told the court she was at the mall when she received a panicked phone call from Lopez, who said Adrianna wasn't breathing. But she said she advised him against calling 911 immediately, because she thought her daughter was simply out of breath from running around too much.

When Ochoa got home, paramedics, police and firefighters were there. Ochoa said her husband told her he didn't know what had happened to make Adrianna stop breathing. Lopez had been home caring for his two children and two stepchildren while Ochoa went shopping.

Ochoa said her daughter never complained of injuries to her private parts.

She said she yelled at her daughter to discipline her, and never shook her. She noticed a bruise on Adrianna's rib cage when she bathed the child earlier in the day, Ochoa said, but believed her daughter's injury came from roughhousing with an older brother, who was 7.

"(He) was very rough with Adrianna," Ochoa said.

During questioning, a defense attorney suggested that Adrianna could have gotten her injuries from the boy. Ochoa acknowledged that he had been known to make inappropriate sexual motions around his sister, though she disagreed when Lopez's attorney characterized the motions as "dry humping."

After the hearing, Jeff Lopez Sr., the defendant's father, said that 154 times during an interview with a detective, his son denied harming Adrianna. Lopez Sr. said the girl was abused, just like the medical reports show, but not by her stepfather.

"There's no way my son did this," Jeff Lopez Sr. said, adding that the truth will come out when the case goes to a jury.

The judge said Lopez must stand trial on suspicion of murder, child abuse causing death, sexual assault on a child and sexual penetration by a foreign object. Lopez, who worked at Hilmar Cheese, is scheduled to return to court Feb. 6 for arraignment. He is being held in lieu of $2 million bail. Conviction on all counts could lead to a life sentence.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.