FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- An Arizona woman who pleaded guilty to murder in the starvation death of her 6-year-old son was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Thursday after witnesses described the horrors of the tiny closet that reeked of urine where he and his young brother were kept and denied food.
Elizabeth Archibeque's lawyer had asked that her sentence include the possibility of parole after 35 years partly because she had agreed to plead guilty to first-degree murder and child abuse in the 2020 death of Deshaun Martinez.
But Coconino Superior Court Judge Ted Reed said that while her expression of remorse was genuine, her “heinous, cruel and depraved behavior” warranted imprisonment for “the rest of your natural life.”
One police detective testified Thursday that she had never seen anything as horrific in her entire life — a nightmare for the emaciated boys crammed in a 21-by-25-inch (53-by-63-centimeter) closet for 16 hours a day.
Archibeque, 29, who briefly took the witness stand to testify on her own behalf on Thursday, said she blamed herself for her son's death and fully accepted whatever sentence she received.
“A huge part of me died along with my beautiful child," she said. “Not a day goes by that I do not grieve ... I am so sorry."
Archibeque was charged along with the boy’s father, Anthony Martinez, and grandmother, Ann Martinez, who have pleaded not guilty and are being tried separately on murder and child abuse charges.
Archibeque's public defender, Christine Brown, suggested Thursday the other two were primarily to blame for the abuse of the boys.
An autopsy determined Deshaun Martinez, who weighed just 18 pounds (8.1 kilograms), died of severe starvation. Authorities found him unresponsive after Ann Martinez called 911 on March 2, 2020, and said she thought her grandson was dead. The manner of death later was listed as homicide.
The boy’s parents initially attributed their son’s malnourished state to a medical condition and to ingesting diet or caffeine pills. Eventually, they told police they kept him and his older brother in a closet for 16 hours a day and gave them little to eat. The brother survived.
The boys’ confinement was punishment for stealing food while the parents slept, police said. Their two sisters, ages 4 and 2, were found healthy in the apartment where they all lived.
Flagstaff police Detective Melissa Seay testified during Thursday’s sentencing hearing that on the day Deshaun's body was found in the family's Flagstaff apartment, she examined the tiny closet where the boys slept with an orange piece of plastic on the floor and a “foul, awful smell of urine.”
“I have never seen something so horrific in all my life,” Seay said. She said Deshaun “was just bones.”
“His face was completely sunken in. It was just like a skeleton,” Seay said. She said his brother didn't fare much better.
“His bones were protruding from his back. I could see his ribs," she said.
Deputy County Attorney Michael Tunink said he decided not to show the evidence photos during the sentencing hearing because they were so “disturbing it is hard on anyone who has to see them.”
Brown said Archibeque was addicted to methamphetamine at birth, had a traumatic upbringing and suffered from mental issues. She said her husband and mother-in-law inflicted physical and emotional abuse on her and she “felt powerless” to do anything about the situation.
Brown said Archibeque told her during one visit to the jail that "I feel more free in here than I did with him.”
She said Archibeque "is very aware she will spend the rest of her life in prison" but feels a “huge sense of relief” knowing her children now live in a better place.
Lawyers for both sides requested and the judge agreed to seal all pre-sentencing documents because of their sensitive nature in an effort to protect the other children's privacy.
The foster mother who took in Deshaun’s siblings said his brother was “so traumatized about food and eating” that he would "ask every five minutes” when they would eat next and kept a “special little lunch box with snacks that would never leave his side.”
She said it has taken three years for one of the sisters to begin to talk and that the other one “holds the belief she carried both brothers on her back and saved them.”
“So much has been taken from these children,” she said.
Lawyers for Ann Martinez are scheduled to appear at a case management conference Sept. 18, with her trial currently set to begin in January 2024. Anthony Martinez had been scheduled to go to trial earlier this year, but the trial date was vacated and has not been reset.
Sonner reported from Reno, Nevada.
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