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Justice News

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Woman sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for second-degree murder and intentional child abuse for death of infant

ALBUQERQUE, N.M. – Sophia Zayas, 40, was sentenced in federal court on April 19 to 30 years in prison for charges relating to the 2007 death of her infant daughter. On Aug. 4, 2021, a federal jury returned a guilty verdict on one count of second-degree murder, one count of intentional child abuse resulting in death, four counts of intentional abuse resulting in great bodily harm and two counts of intentional child abuse not resulting in great bodily harm.

On Feb. 19, 2014, her husband, Peter Zayas, 37, pleaded guilty to negligent child abuse resulting in great bodily harm.  In his plea agreement, Peter Zayas admitted that between August 16, 2007, and Oct. 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. At the time of the offenses, Peter Zayas was a sergeant with the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base. On Oct. 2, 2018, Peter Zayas was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

The infant sustained fractures to her skull, ribs, and radius and ulna as a result of the abuse. Physicians testified that the child's injuries stemmed from multiple blunt force trauma that was the result of abusive behavior. The jury heard testimony that Sophia Zayas’s daughter died as the result of an axonal injury in her brain and that the injury was caused by a blow to the head. Additionally, the jury heard testimony that Sophia Zayas had a serious drinking problem, that she was the only steward for the infant on the day of her death, and that the baby suffered numerous abusive incidents in her short life.

Previously, Sophia Zayas pleaded guilty on Feb. 24, 2014, to negligent child abuse resulting in great bodily harm. However, in November of 2015, her counsel filed a motion to withdraw her guilty plea, asserting that her plea was not knowing and voluntary following a change in the relevant child abuse law. The district court denied that motion on Feb. 8, 2017. On Sept. 27, 2018, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but successfully appealed the district court’s decision to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. On Feb. 6, 2020, the Tenth Circuit remanded the case back to the district court with instructions to vacate her guilty plea.

The FBI and the Air Force Office of Special Investigation investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Maria Y. Armijo and Christopher S. McNair is prosecuting the case.

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Topic(s): 
Violent Crime
Press Release Number: 
22-89
Updated April 20, 2022