DALLAS - The man who beat and tortured a Grand Prairie 4-year-old girl was convicted of capital murder Monday afternoon by a Dallas County jury.
Charles Phifer received an automatic life sentence for killing Leiliana Wright, his girlfriend's daughter, in 2016.
The crime was so awful that even the judge said he believes Phifer deserves a fate similar to what he put that little girl through. After the verdict, the judge had harsh words for the defendant. He said in his 28 years of handling hundreds of murder cases, he thinks this is the worst case he's ever seen.
Prosecutors said Phifer tied Leiliana up in a closet, beat her with a belt and threw her against the wall. An autopsy also revealed she had been sexually abused.
"What you did was monstrous and salvage," Judge Robert Burns told Phifer. "You and Jeri did monstrous things to that little girl."
Phifer showed little emotion as he heard a scathing rebuke from Judge Burns.
"Life in prison seems insufficient," the judge said. "Hanging a little girl in a closet is savage. You should die in a locked closet."
Phifer waived his right to testify on Friday. His defense also rested without calling any witnesses. But during closing arguments, Phifer's lawyers worked to discount the key testimony from Leiliana's mother, calling her "lying Jeri."
Jeri Quezada was dating Phifer at the time and testified that she found Leiliana in the closet when she came home from a family dinner. She said she was high on heroin but remembers Phifer picking the little girl up by her throat and throwing her.
During closing arguments, Phifer's lawyers brought up Quezada's drug use, criminal history and history with Child Protective Services. They hoped to create doubt that Phifer was the one responsible for Leiliana's death.
The defense also pointed out inconsistencies in Quezada's testimony last week. But a sergeant with the Grand Prairie Police Department told jurors that the story she gave about Phifer shoving her daughter into the wall did appear to add up.
Quezada pleaded guilty to injury to a child last year. She agreed to take the stand as part of her plea deal.
Leiliana's father, Brian Maker, says he had limited visitation with her but also said he reported bruises to CPS long before her death.
"There has been a lot changed because of her," he said. "Pretty sad a little girl's death has to do that."
A caseworker and supervisor on Leiliana's case were fired, and a special investigator resigned."
"She was an angel. She loved to dance. She had a heart of gold wanted to make sure you were happy," Maker said. "They say it gets easier, but it doesn't."
Quezada will be sentenced for injury to a child on Wednesday. Under a plea agreement, she is expected to get 50 years.
Victims will then make statements to both perpetrators.