Child's $2.8M, neglect linked: Espinoza changes plea to guilty after testimony

Published on Wednesday, 26 March 2014 22:43 - Written by Kenneth Dean

ATHENS — A woman hoped to tap into a $2.8 million trust fund by neglecting her 17-year-old daughter to the point where she would die, Henderson County officials said Wednesday.

Irma Espin-oza, 52, of Athens, pleaded guilty Wednesday after testimony began to paint a picture of a “House of Horror,” Henderson County officials said.

Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee said Ms. Espinoza halted the trial and changed her plea in the case of injury to a disabled person by omission.

Ms. Espinoza failed to provide or seek medical treatment or provide proper nutrition to her daughter, who has cerebral palsy and mental retardation, McKee said. 

Henderson County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Body Hillhouse said it was the worst case of neglect and child abuse the county has ever seen. 

“We entered this in 2012 as part of a joint investigation with Child Protective Services when the child was taken to a local hospital. She only weighed 29 pounds when she was first hospitalized,” he said. Hillhouse said the 17-year-old has recovered and gained weight and is in state care.

Hillhouse described the house on Farm-to-Market Road 859 south of Athens as a “House of Horror.”

He said the home was full of cats, urine and fecal matter.

“It was deplorable conditions. It is really hard to describe,” he said. 

Hillhouse said that during the investigation it was learned there was a large trust fund in the daughter’s name to take care of her needs for life. He said he believed the money was some sort of a medical litigation.

“The mother could not touch it as long as the daughter was alive, so we believe she was starving her so she would die to get the money,” he said.

The girl was covered in bed sores so deep that her bones were infected, and she suffered from re-feeding syndrome, acute kidney failure, malnutrition and severe dehydration. 

McKee said that when he first saw the photos in the case, he could not believe what he was seeing. 

He said the case was emotionally difficult for everyone involved.  Ms. Espinoza is expected to be sentenced May 12.