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State Seeks Death Penalty for Parents Accused of ‘Especially Heinous’ Murder of Adopted Daughter Found Skeletonized in Burned Attic


Maribel Loera and Rafael Loera. (Image via the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office.)

State prosecutors in Arizona are seeking the death penalty against a married couple accused of killing their 11-year-old adopted daughter, hiding her body in the attic of their home for several years, and then setting the house on fire. The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office this week formally filed Notices of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty against Maribel Loera and Rafael Loera, both of whom are facing a slew of felony charges in connection with the death of Ana Loera.

As previously reported by Law&Crime, the Loeras in January 2020 were both arrested and later charged with first-degree murder, child abuse, conspiracy to commit child abuse, concealment of a body, and arson of an occupied structure.

If convicted on the first-degree murder charges, prosecutors said they plan to present evidence of aggravating factors at the sentencing phase of the trial showing that the Loeras’ conduct was “especially heinous, cruel, or depraved” and justify putting the adoptive parents to death.

“If not yet admitted into evidence, the State will offer additional evidence from guilt phase witnesses relevant to the aggravating factors, including the cruelty suffered by the victim,” prosecutors wrote in the filing. “For example, the State will be calling the Medical Examiner and Forensic Anthropologist to discuss cruelty elements.”

The cruelty elements of Arizona law require prosecutors to include the mental, emotional, and physical suffering of the victim. The heinous and depraved elements of the law look at factors such as the helplessness of the victim, the senselessness of the crime, and violations of a special caretaker relationship, among other things.

Officers with the Phoenix Police Department and firefighters with the Phoenix Fire Department on Jan. 28, 2020 responded to a 911 call reporting a fire at the Loeras’ home. The call came in only an hour after the Department of Child Safety removed three children from the home due to allegations of severe abuse.

After firefighters were able to subdue the blaze, authorities entered the home and found Ana’s skeletal remains stuffed in the attic.

Under questioning from investigators, Rafael allegedly admitted to siphoning gasoline from his car which he then used to set the house on fire. Citing court records, Phoenix NBC affiliate KPNX reported that Rafael also confessed that he wrapped Ana’s dead body “in a blanket and stashed it in the attic of the home.”

Rafael reportedly told police that Ana fell very ill in the summer of 2017 but that he “waited several days before trying to seek medical attention,” The Associated Press reported. When he finally decided to take Ana to see a doctor, Rafael allegedly said that he put her in the car and started driving. He then claimed the girl began convulsing and vomiting and then died before they reached the hospital. He reportedly claimed he didn’t report her death because he didn’t want his other children to be taken away, so he stashed the body in the attic. Two of those other children were Ana’s siblings.

Despite Rafael’s claims that Ana died in July 2017, investigators with Phoenix police said witnesses had last seen Ana alive in 2016.

Rafael and Maribel are currently scheduled to be tried on March 1.

See below for the notice of intent filings.

[image via Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.