Man who confessed to killing 5-year-old niece get 18 years in prison

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By Alicia Barron By Alicia Barron

PHOENIX -- A man who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his 5-year-old niece will spend the next 18 years in prison -- and he won't be getting out early.

Leonard Raymond Orta Jr. entered into a plea agreement. In keeping with that agreement Judge Warren Granville handed down the sentence Friday.

Because the sentence is flat time, Orta will not be eligible for parole, work furlough or any kind of release until he has served the entire sentence. [State v. Behl, 160 Ariz. 527, 528 (Ariz. Ct. App. 1989) and A.R.S. § 13-1406(B)].

This case goes back to July 2009 when Orta became the legal guardian for his little niece, Kaiya, who suffered from a disease called Rett Syndrome. It's a rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorder seen almost exclusively in girls. Early symptoms are often similar to autism.

Police arrested Orta, who had experience working with special-needs children, about seven months later, believing that he deliberately withheld medication and proper nutrition from Kaiya.

Orta, 47 when he was arrested, was caring for Kaiya because the treatment she needed was not available in Hawaii, where her parents lived. According to the Star Bulletin, they were going through a divorce.

Police arrested Orta after they were called out to his Phoenix apartment to deal with a domestic violence situation. Orta's father, who also lived in the apartment, said he noticed a foul odor coming from a bedroom and became concerned because he had not seen his granddaughter since mid-January.

According to investigators, Kaiya had been dead for as long as four weeks by the time her body was discovered.

Police said Orta admitted that he withheld food and medication from the child for 10 days. He also told police that he lied to his father, telling him Kaiya had been admitted to the hospital for treatment. Orta's father discovered the lie and confronted Orta. That's what led to the domestic violence call that brought officers to the home.

Court documents showed that Orta received $500 a month to care for Kaiya. Those checks came from the child's father. Orta cashed the February check, even though Kaiya had already died.

The Maricopa County Attorney Office, then under Andrew Thomas, filed criminal charges within a week of Orta's arrest. The original charges were first-degree murder, child abuse and abandonment and concealment of a dead body.

Orta's neighbors were stunned by the arrest. Mark Sommer was friends with Orta's father and lived in the same apartment complex. He said the men were doing everything they could for the little girl.

"She couldn't swallow. She couldn't eat properly," he said shortly after Orta's arrest. "They had to hand feed her liquids. ... [T]he child would never grow to be normal, but they were helping to do everything they could for her."

While there is no cure for Rett Syndrome, people who suffer from it can live well into middle age although they likely will need constant care.

As the syndrome progresses, patients lose their ability to perform motor functions, as well as the ability to speak. It's estimated that the syndrome affects one in every 10,000 to 15,000 girls born worldwide. Treatment generally focuses on the management of symptoms.

Kaiya would have turned 6 in February 2010.