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Tuesday, March 15, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Stepmother accused of manslaughter in 4-year-old's death

Times Snohomish County Bureau

EVERETT — A 25-year-old Lake Stevens woman who allegedly beat her 4-year-old stepdaughter to death was charged yesterday with first-degree manslaughter.

Heather Ewell had initially told authorities that the child died soon after drinking glue-gun cleaner. But an autopsy indicated Sirita Sotelo had a skull fracture, severed liver and other injuries consistent with serious trauma, according to charging papers filed yesterday in Snohomish County Superior Court.

On the night of Jan. 21, Snohomish County sheriff's investigators were called to Ewell's house, in the 2500 block of 101st Avenue Northeast, for a report of an unconscious child.

When investigators arrived, Ewell and her sister said the child not only drank glue-gun cleaner, prompting them to call the state Poison Control Hotline for advice, but she also fell and hit her head in the shower, charging documents said. The women said Sirita went to bed and the last time they saw her alive was at about 8:25 p.m., according to court documents.

County Medical Examiner Norman Thiersch estimates the child died about 12 hours before Ewell's sister dialed 911. Tests showed there were no glue-gun solvents in her blood, charging papers said.

After the slaying, Sirita's father told authorities that his wife thought she may have hurt Sirita. Ewell's grandmother said that the woman told her she "lost it" and feared going to prison for it, said Deputy Snohomish County Prosecutor Craig Matheson.

Defense Attorney Mark Mestel said Ewell has not been arrested but is scheduled to plead guilty when she is arraigned March 23.

She faces up to 8 ½ years in prison.

Ewell was a stay-at-home mom raising her four young children and Sirita, according to authorities.

Sirita had spent much of her life bouncing between foster care and her biological mother before moving in with the Ewells in November 2003. A Woodinville man who was Sirita's foster father for nine months said he and his wife would have adopted the girl if they had the chance.

"I am angry, but mostly it's sad," said Gary M., the foster father who asked that his last name not be published to protect the identities of his other foster children.

Gary M. said Sirita spent about a year with another foster family before moving into his home. He said Patricia Sotelo, the child's mother, had visitations with Sirita when she wasn't in jail.

"Sirita wanted a place where she belonged," Gary M. said during an interview last month. "She wanted a forever home."

Gary M. said that when Sirita's father, John Ewell, talked about taking the child, he and his wife worried whether Heather Ewell would treat the child unfairly because she was a product of her husband's infidelity.

"We were worried she would be the Cinderella," Gary M. said. "They [John and Heather Ewell] seemed affectionate. I didn't see [Sirita] shrinking away or having any negative reaction."

But Ewell's relatives told authorities that Sirita often told the woman that she hated her or wished her dead so she could spend more time with her father, charging paper say.

John Ewell told investigators his wife had been depressed over the disruption Sirita caused their family. In a diary investigators seized from the home, Heather Ewell apparently detailed concerns over her marriage and family, charging documents said.

Jennifer Sullivan: 425-783-0604 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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