Stepmother sentenced to life in prison for torture murder of three-year-old girl

Bella Seachrist, 3, died in June 2020  (CBS)
Bella Seachrist, 3, died in June 2020 (CBS)

A Pennsylvania woman has been jailed for life for the torture and murder of her three-year-old stepdaughter.

Bella Seachrist died in June 2020 after being starved, tortured and physically abused by her stepmother Laura Ramirez.

Ramirez was found guilty of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault, and one count each of endangering the welfare of a child, unlawful restraint, and conspiracy to commit homicide.

On Wednesday, the 31-year-old was sentenced to life in prison without parole and an additional 37 to 74 years.

Bella’s father, 32-year-old Jose Eduardo Salazar-Ortiz, was also convicted on one count each of third-degree murder, aggravated assault, endangering the welfare of children, and conspiracy to commit homicide back in May.

He was sentenced to 33 to 66 years in prison.

Ramriez’s 23-year-old sister Alexis Herrera has also been accused of taking part in the abuse of the three-year-old and is scheduled to stand trial on charges in January.

Little Bella was found “unresponsive” in a bathtub in a home in Oakmont on the afternoon of 9 June 2020.

“When officers and paramedics arrived, they found the child appearing to be badly bruised and malnourished. Officers and medics performed life saving measures and transported the child to an area hospital where the child was pronounced deceased,” a statement by Allegheny County Police Department said.

Bella weighed less than 30 pounds when she died, according to investigators, who said she was starved by her family members.

Jose Eduardo Salazar-Ortiz, Laura Ramirez, and Alexis Herrera (Allegheny County Police Department)
Jose Eduardo Salazar-Ortiz, Laura Ramirez, and Alexis Herrera (Allegheny County Police Department)

The three-year-old was allegedly emaciated to the point where her bones were visible through her skin and so malnourished that her hair was patchy and falling out.

Bella had also been sexually abused, beaten, tied up, gagged, and stuffed in small dark locked closets, according to investigators.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen a level of malice not only indeed done here,” Common Pleas Judge Bruce Beemer said at Ramirez’s sentencing.

“There was no other possible result, based on what occurred day after day, week after week, month after month, but for her to die in one of the most horrific ways possible.

He told the killer: “The pain, the hunger – I cannot envision a worse fate for that child than the one she suffered at your hands in that house in Oakmont.”

The three-year-old’s mother Nicole previously told CBS News that she sent Bella to live with her father and stepmother because she was struggling to raise her alone.

Nicole said she struggled just to get diapers for her child and thought Salazar-Ortiz, Ramirez and their family could give Bella a better life.

The three-year-old’s mother said she believes her daughter became the target of her stepmother’s anger after Salazar-Ortiz had an affair.

“She just did it out of spite because number one, that’s not her baby. And number two, he had an affair,” Nicole told CBS.

“I’m disgusted, I’m angry,” she said.

“I will never get to hear my daughter call me mommy. I will never get to see her graduate. I will never get to see her go to college. I will never get to see her get married.”