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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Mexico

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Air Force Sergeant Pleads Guilty to Negligent Child Abuse Resulting in Great Bodily Injury and Death

LAS CRUCES – Peter John Zayas, 29, pleaded guilty late this afternoon in Las Cruces federal court to a felony information charging him with negligent child abuse resulting in great bodily injury, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough, Special Agent Carol K.O. Lee of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI, and Acting Special Agent in Charge Gregory Harper of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. 

Zayas and his wife, Sophia Zayas, 32, were arrested in April 2012 by the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations on charges that between Oct. 21, 2007 and Oct. 22, 2007, they caused their two-month old infant daughter’s death.  In Nov. 2012, a 16-count superseding indictment was filed charging Zayas and Sophia Zayas with second degree murder, child abuse resulting in death, child abuse resulting in great bodily harm, and other child abuse-related offenses.  At the time of the offenses alleged in the superseding indictment, Zayas was a sergeant with the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base.

During this afternoon’s proceedings, Zayas pleaded guilty to negligent child abuse resulting in great bodily harm.  In his plea agreement, Zayas admitted that from Aug. 16, 2007 through Oc. 22, 2007, he permitted his infant to be in a situation that endangered her life knowing that there was a foreseeable risk that she would be physically harmed or killed by leaving her in the care of Sophia Zayas knowing that she had a history of alcohol abuse.  Zayas acknowledged that the infant sustained posterior transverse skull fractures, rib fractures, and radius and ulna fractures as a result of his negligence.

According to the plea agreement, Zayas also acknowledged that the infant died on Oct. 22, 2007, as a result of his negligence because it was foreseeable to him that leaving the infant in Sophia Zayas’ care could lead to harm given Sophia’s alcohol consumption and binge drinking during the Oct. 14, 2007 through Oct. 22, 2007. 

Zayas has been in federal custody since his arrest and remains detained pending his sentencing hearing.  At sentencing, he faces a penalty of 18 years in prison.

Sophia Zayas has pleaded not guilty to the charges against her and remains in federal custody pending her trial, which is scheduled for March 10, 2014.  The charges against Sophia Zayas are merely accusations and she is presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The case was investigated by the FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Maria Y. Armijo and Anna R. Wright.

Updated January 26, 2015