OAKLAND -- A 22-year-old Oakland mother who killed her 2-year-old daughter was sent to prison for at least 15 years Tuesday during an emotional hearing that even caused the judge to break down in tears.
"It's not even pain; it's not even hurt. It's misery," said Joseph Russell Jr., the father of Kamilah Russell. "This is the worst moment a father has to face in his life; this little girl was my beginning of fatherhood."
Paramedics found Kamilah not breathing in her home on High Street on March 9, 2010 after Tiffany Lopez called 911, reporting that her daughter had stopped breathing. The baby was taken to Children's Hospital Oakland where she was later pronounced dead due to asphyxiation.
Lopez initially told police and Russell that the child's death was an accident caused when she sat on her during a game of hide-and-seek. Lopez said that her daughter had hid under a couch cushion and that she sat on Kamilah not realizing that the girl was hiding under the cushion.
But during a lengthy videotaped police interrogation, Lopez finally admitted to detectives that she had purposely placed her hand over Kamilah's mouth and nose in an effort to stop the toddler from crying. Lopez said Kamilah was crying for her father who was not home at the time.
Lopez was charged with first-degree murder for the killing but the Alameda County District Attorney's office offered her a plea deal in which she was found guilty of second-degree murder and given a sentence of 15-years-to-life in prison.
"I never meant to hurt her, my first child," Lopez said through loud sobs. "The pain that I feel is too much to bear. There is not a moment that goes by when I am not sorry for what I have done."
Deputy district attorney Luis Marin said the plea deal was given because there was not enough evidence to prove Lopez had premeditation in the killing.
"She pleaded to what the crime was; she pleaded to murder," Marin said. "We don't believe it was premeditated."
But Russell said regardless of the legal definition, the killing of his child was brutal and said his former girlfriend of more than three years should be killed for what she did.
"I will not ever forgive Tiffany Lopez. I hate Tiffany Lopez, " Russell said as tears ran down his face. "What happened to my baby was not an accident; my daughter was brutally murdered and in my mind, it should be a life-for-life situation."
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Carrie Panetta also began crying as she pronounced the sentence. Panetta even ran from the bench for a few minutes to compose herself before she returned.
"This is an especially difficult case and sentencing when a young child ...," Panetta said before she began to cry again. "I can't even imagine your pain. I can't."
Panetta said she too questioned the deal but said she ultimately sided with the district attorney's analysis of the case.
"I too considered this disposition and whether it was enough or not," she said.
Lopez, a former San Mateo resident, had a history of child abuse in the past and her family members had said she suffered from a mental illness. That past was cited during a 2010 hearing when a different judge denied bail for Lopez.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson said at the time that Lopez "beat the tar" out of her 11-year-old brother after an argument over a soda and said she "suffers from some level of mental disability."
Lopez was charged with two counts of misdemeanor child endangerment for the incident with her brother.
Lopez will have to serve 15 years in prison before she is eligible for parole. Her attorney, Assistant public defender Lindsay Hortsman, declined to comment Tuesday.