LAS CRUCES - A United States Air Force sergeant and his wife pleaded not guilty Wednesday in federal court to charges that they abused their two-month old daughter to death in 2007.
A detention hearing has been scheduled for May 8 in U.S. District Court in Las Cruces for Peter Zayas, 27, and his wife, Sophia Zayas, 30. The hearing will be held to determine whether they will continue to be held in federal custody while their case is pending.
Federal prosecutors are requesting that the defendants not be released from pretrial detention.
In court documents, prosecutors said Peter and Sophia Zayas are responsible for the October 2007 death of their two-month old daughter, who died from multiple blunt force trauma.
An autopsy found that the infant had a head injury consistent with the child having been shaken or beaten. The infant also had two skull fractures, 10 broken ribs and four cigarette burns, according to court documents.
Sophia Zayas has maintained her innocence. She said she put the baby down for a nap on Oct. 22, 2007, checked on her a half-hour later, and found her daughter blue from not breathing, according to court documents.
After he was arrested April 24 at Holloman Air Force Base, Peter Zayas, an Air Force sergeant, told authorities that he was "responsible" for the infant's death, but prosecutors said his explanations were not consistent with the physical evidence, court documents said.
Peter Zayas also told authorities that his wife had an"illness" and that she could not be held responsible. Prosecutors allege that Sophia Zayas is an alcoholic who acts out violently when she is intoxicated, and that her husband is trying to cover for her.
The New Mexico Children and Youth Families Department obtained a court order in 2010 terminating the Zayas' parental rights because of their unwillingness to provide a justifiable explanation for their daughter's death, according to court documents.
The federal penalty for child abuse resulting in death is a life sentence. Peter and Sophia Zayas are each charged with child abuse resulting in death, three counts each of child abuse and child abuse resulting in great bodily harm.
Brian Fraga can be reached at (575) 541-5462; Follow him on Twitter @bfraga