Arizona Mother Receives Life Sentence for Starving Son, 3, To Death

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
July 23, 2019 Updated: September 2, 2019

An Arizona woman convicted of starving her 3-year-old son to death and stuffing his body in a toy chest was sentenced to life in prison this week.

Raquel Marcella Barreras, 44, of Tucson, received the sentence on July 22 without the possibility of parole.

Pima County prosecutors say Barreras was also sentenced Monday to 24 additional years in prison for child abuse charges. All sentences will run concurrently.

The sentence came after a Pima County jury found her guilty of first-degree felony murder and one of child abuse in May this year.

She pleaded guilty to four other charges in the case, including abandoning or concealing a dead body plus three counts of child abuse. [AP]

The prosecution said during the trial that the boy was allegedly starved and isolated from others by his mother. She refused to let anyone talk to or play with the boy, or give him food, reported ABC 15.

Before Barreras was sentenced, the prosecution alleged that Barreras created a torture chamber.

Testifying in the trial in April, the boy’s sister said that he was put into the toy box for being “very very very bad,” reported News4 Tucson.

Another sister also recalled how their mother would tell her and her siblings that it was “none of their business” when she asked why they couldn’t play with their little brother.

Two of Roman’s siblings added they would often try to sneak him crackers as they noticed he looked extremely thin. They said they knew something wasn’t right, and that he was often kept locked in a laundry room outside their Tucson home.

Roman died from starvation and neglect, an autopsy report found.

“It took Roman a long time to die. It took him a long time to starve to death, and she watched him do it,” said prosecutor Virginia Aspacher.

“We cannot make these things better for Roman. What we can do is bring justice to Roman, the justice that Roman deserves,” she added.

However, the defendant’s attorney maintained that the claims were untrue. He argued that Barreras did feed her son and that the boy could have lost weight because of a possible battle with cancer.

The attorney argued that Barreras, who was addicted to drugs and struggling with poverty at the time of the allegations, was an easy target for prosecutors.

The toddler is believed to have died sometime between the spring of 2013 and January 2014, according to authorities.

The skeletal remains of the 44-year-old’s son, Roman Barreras, were found by her landlord in the abandoned toy chest. That happened after the family was evicted from a Tucson rental unit in the 700 block of West Idaho Street.

When Roman was born in July 2010, he was taken in by the state’s Department of Child Safety along with his three older siblings. That was due to drug exposure from his parents. However, Roman was placed back in his father’s care in 2011, reported

At the time, the 44-year-old reportedly went against department instructions, which stated she wasn’t to be around her children as she had not complied with their case plan, unlike their father, Martin Barreras. Their father allowed Barreras to return to their home, according to the outlet.

Assistant Public Defender Cynthia Yializis blamed the department during the trial for failing to check on the children’s wellbeing.

“This case is a tragedy,” she said.

“It is the worst of the worst when you have a family, and addiction and poverty collide, and the system designed to protect turns a blind eye.”

In August, the boy’s father is also set to appear in court for first-degree murder.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist and currently a news reporter at The Epoch Times. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.