The grave injuries to her child drew immediate suspicion. Her explanation only added to that.
Iris Hernandez-Rivas, 20, told detectives she had become angry with her daughter, Nohely, because the 4-year-old had refused to brush her teeth or wash her face. The mother said she kicked the girl in the stomach, causing her to fall back and hit her head against a wall in their Gaithersburg apartment. Nohely was listless, her mother said in her account, but the child managed to walk to the bathroom by herself, where she fell into the tub and was left unconscious.
Days later, in a hospital, Nohely was dead.
The 16-month criminal case against Hernandez-Rivas that started in January 2017 ended this week when Montgomery County Circuit Judge David Boynton sentenced her to 25 years in prison for her daughter’s death.
“I don’t know what caused that kind of disdain that you had for her, or this lack of love and sympathy,” Boynton told Hernandez-Rivas. “But it seems pretty clear that that child really had very little chance of being successful in this life with the way that you treated her.”
After hurting the girl, the judge noted, Hernandez-Rivas waited 58 minutes before calling 911. Evidence also showed the girl had been beaten with a belt and suffered from a history of physical abuse.
“You don’t hit a child with a belt,” Boynton said. “You don’t kick a child, you don’t slam a child into a wall, and when a child’s hurt, you call for help.”
Minutes earlier, Hernandez-Rivas had asked Boynton for a second chance.
“I will never get to see my daughter again,” she said. “I love her with all my heart.”
She spoke about her two younger children — both under 2 years old — and being away from them since her arrest last year. In jail, she said, she has taken parenting classes and pursued a GED.
“I can be a better parent to my two children,” she said in court, her crying making it difficult for her to speak. “My two babies are all that I have right now.”
On Jan. 26, 2017, just before 12:30 p.m., Hernandez-Rivas called 911 and said her daughter was unresponsive. Medics arrived and took the child to a hospital in Rockville, where medical staff found “reddish bruising on multiple regions of her body,” according to court records, and brain injuries. The girl was transferred to Children’s National Medical Center in the District, court records show, where testing found a bruise on her liver and “patterned injuries that are the result of blunt force trauma with an object.”
The injuries set off intense questioning of Hernandez-Rivas by county detectives, who got shifting explanations from her.
The mother initially told detectives that as her daughter was taking a shower alone, she heard a noise from the bathroom and went to check on the child. She found her young daughter facedown in the tub, unresponsive, and with her hands clenched at her side, court files show.
On Jan. 27, the mother gave a different explanation that included the account of her kicking Nohely, who hit a wall but managed to get to the bathroom.
Nohely died at Children’s National Feb. 1, 2017. Within a month, Hernandez-Rivas was indicted on charges of second-degree murder, child abuse and child abuse resulting in death.
As her trial approached, Hernandez-Rivas pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death under an agreement with prosecutors that the other charges would be dropped. That led to her sentencing Tuesday.
Assistant State’s Attorney Ryan Wechsler asked for a 30-year sentence, going through the series of injuries Nohely had suffered. The prosecutor also told Boynton what authorities saw when they walked into Hernandez-Rivas’s apartment last year.
Framed photos hung throughout the residence, but none was of Nohely. “There was nothing, nothing of this little girl,” Wechsler said.
Hernandez-Rivas’s attorney, Harry Trainor, spoke of his client’s hardships growing up in El Salvador and of how, at 7 years old, her mother left her with relatives and immigrated to the United States. It was the first time Hernandez-Rivas had met her father, who died a year later.
“She really didn’t have any parental role models to look to for parenting skills,” Trainor said in court.
She gave birth to Nohely when she was 16. A short time later, she left the child with relatives and crossed the border illegally into the United States. She was detained for 35 days, according to court records, before continuing to Maryland under the federal government’s unaccompanied- minor program.
She settled into the Gaithersburg area, met a boyfriend and moved into an apartment with him. In late 2016, she gave birth to her second child and then became pregnant with her third. It was about this time, according to court records, that Nohely was brought from El Salvador and joined them.
Hernandez-Rivas “was overwhelmed, I think, by her circumstances and obviously not properly prepared for the parenting responsibilities she was facing,” Trainor said.
He cited Maryland sentencing guidelines for the case that are not binding but call for a 12- to 20-year prison term. He asked the judge to impose a sentence of 12 years or less.
“There was some acting out by the 4-year-old that she dealt with improperly and wrongly by pushing the child with her foot. The child hit her head,” Trainor said, adding that his client had said later that Nohely fell in the bathroom. “This is a serious case, but there clearly was no intention on her part to injure this child or treat this child in some evil way.”
After Hernandez-Rivas’s arrest last year, federal immigration officials lodged a detainer on her, an indication they would ultimately try to remove her from the United States. Trainor said as much in court, telling Boynton: “Whatever sentence the court imposes in this case — once it’s served — it’s going to result in her deportation.”