FLORENCE — Jose Antonio Lopez will serve 24 years flat time for the murder of Mia Alvarez, the 21-month-old girl he was babysitting for his fiancée in Arizona City in July 2007.

Lopez, 33, pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder Oct. 31 and was sentenced by Pinal County Superior Court Judge Joseph Georgini Friday. He was 21 when the girl’s death occurred.

With the flat time sentence, Lopez must serve the entire 24 years. It was the harshest sentence possible under a plea agreement with the state.

With credit for 3,534 days already served in pretrial custody, Lopez will spend the next 14 years in a state prison. He is looking at a release date in 2034.

At Friday’s sentencing hearing, Priscilla Hernandez, Mia’s mother spoke to the court.

“The impact that this had on me,” she said crying. “I don’t feel he is remorseful for what he’s done. His story has changed countless times. He took my baby from me when she was only 1. He took that from me.”

Lopez sat shaking his head as the victim’s mother spoke.

Hernandez had to leave the courtroom before finishing her statement as she couldn’t stop crying.

Lopez read a statement to the court saying, “I’ve been living in a world tormenting myself. Everything I used to be, dissolved in the moment. I was just a young man trying to be a father. I didn’t have a father in my life and I didn’t know how to be one. This has torn me in half. My soul has been in anguish this whole time. My life has been in the balance all of these years. If you were sitting here, would you not fight for yourself? This isn’t about me, it really isn’t. Nothing I say today can change anything.”

As he closed his statement, Lopez added, “I never wanted this. I wanted to see our babies grow up. Mia’s life was lost in the process and I acknowledge it completely. I take the responsibility. I am truly sorry. I hope one day there can be forgiveness and peace. For me this is never going to end. I was her dad and I love Mia so much.”

As Georgini handed Lopez the harshest sentence possible with a plea agreement, he said, “All the wonderful things I heard and read about Mr. Lopez can be true. On July 4, 2007, something bad happened. What could a 1-year-old girl do to cause her own death? I don’t profess to know the truth. What I do know is the last thing Mia saw was you, Mr. Lopez, and she saw you filled with anger. Her last breath — you were there. Her last vision was you. That’s the last breath of life she took.”

He said the defense and prosecution were looking at a difference of four years.

“Both sides will walk out of here and there is no justice in this case,” he said.

“Mia’s loss is permanent. It is truly a void that will never be filled. Priscilla’s suffering is forever. Her loss is greater than anything we can describe. What could a 1-year-old do to deserve this? This is not a difficult decision for me,” Georgini said.

Lopez, of Arizona City, had been waiting more than 12 years for a resolution to criminal charges filed against him.

According to the plea agreement Oct. 31, Lopez was expected to be sentenced to 20 to 24 years in prison, which is far less than the life imprisonment without parole he was looking at with his first conviction. At the judge’s discretion, Lopez could have been sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in 35 years with a presumptive sentence of parole in 20 years and a minimum sentence of 13 years before parole.

A jury originally found Lopez guilty in July 2012. The case was retried after a successful appeal by defense attorneys.

During the first trial, Lopez testified Mia had slammed her head on the ground while having a tantrum. The victim’s 3-year-old sister told investigators Lopez had broken Mia’s neck and head, court documents show.

Multiple doctors gave conflicting testimony on what caused the victim’s injuries. One doctor told the jury it was “possible” her injuries were the result of falling down, while another said that was “not probable.”

Even though Lopez fled the courthouse during a lunch recess before the trial ended, the jury still found him guilty in July 2012. He was apprehended two years later by the U.S. Marshals Service in Las Vegas and brought back to Arizona to serve his prison sentence.

He appealed his conviction and successfully had his case remanded back to Pinal County Superior Court because of alleged improper jury instructions.

Prosecutors filed a new indictment against Lopez in the summer of 2017 for first-degree murder and child abuse.

The Arizona Court of Appeals declined jurisdiction for a second appeal seeking to remand his case back to a grand jury in October 2018.

Lopez was remanded to the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections to serve his time.

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Jim Headley is a reporter covering breaking news, crime and justice around Pinal County. He can be reached at jheadley@pinalcentral.com.

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