Michigan mother sentenced for murder, torture of 4-year-old daughter

A mother was sentenced Wednesday to 30-60 years in prison for the torture and murder of her 4-year-old daughter in what the medical examiner is calling the "worst child death case" in 27 years.

Producer note: Some of the abuse investigation details are disturbing.

Candice Diaz, 25, and boyfriend 28-year-old Brad Fields, faced charges including murder, child abuse and torture in the death of Diaz's 4-year-old daughter Gabby Barrett. The child was found inside their Sumpter Township mobile home burned and beaten on New Year's Day of 2018.

Disturbing details of abuse in 4-year-old death, couple claims mental illness

Police said Diaz told them that on Dec. 31, 2017, Gabby was running her own bath and made it too hot, causing her to burn her skin. They did not seek medical attention and Gabby wanted to take a bath again the next day. This time, Diaz told police, she found Gabby submerged up to her nose in the water. She said she pulled Gabby from the bath and she vomited, while they attempted to provide CPR.

Police said they called 911, who attempted to resuscitate Gabby but she did not survive. Michigan State Police found a large amount of melted skin in the bathtub drain. One detective said that Gabby had been burned so badly that her large toe fell off her body. A medical examination found that she had been physically abused prior to her death. 

The couple fled Michigan, but were caught days later in Lake Park, Georgia off I-75 near the state line of Florida. Officials said the couple would periodically turn on their cell phone to use it, which allowed investigators to ping their location.

Sheriff: Cell phone tracking led to arrest of Sumpter Twp couple in Georgia

The sentencing hearing opened with a letter written on behalf of Gabby.

"I don't ever want to see them happy ... they were torturing her, this was not an accident," the letter read.

Prior to learning Diaz's sentence, defense said Diaz underwent extensive psychological evaluations.

"She went through a living hell in the first years of her own life," attorneys said, saying Diaz had been left with physical and emotional scars from a house fire when she was a child.

But Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans said while that is damaging, it's no excuse for becoming a "predator."

"Your beautiful daughter Gabby was a sacrifice you gave that bum Brad to fulfill his sick and demonic sense of love and control," she said. "You and that monster systematically destroyed this beautiful child's spirit, body, but never her soul. You allowed him to put your child in a garbage bag when she wet herself, to give her drugs. Your response was? Brad beat her ass. What crime could this precious child commit that would cause such severe punishment? None. You were more concerned about feeding Brad the bum than your own child."

Evans said that in nature, male lions kill cubs that aren't their own and breed with the female -- the logic she said was practiced in their home.

"He, with your aid, killed your child and spared Zoey," she said, referring to the child Diaz and Fields had together.

Evans said Zoey was never at risk of harm because they wanted to "get rid of the problem, and that was Gabby." She said on New Year's Eve, Diaz and Fields sent out cards of them and Zoey.

"Happy New Year! But the person that was missing was Gabby because you knew that Gabby wasn't going to make it another year," she said.

Evans said never in her 21 years on the bench had she seen a child sustain injuries inflicted upon Gabby, including tooth decay, burn injuries, vomit in her lungs and traumatic alopecia -- her hair was pulled out of her scalp while she was alive. Evans said the ultimate cause of death was septic shock.

"Her little body couldn't take any more abuse," Evans said. "And on New Year's Day she was free. She died at the hands of a bum and an animal."

Preliminary hearing for Michigan mom in 'worst child death case'

During Diaz's preliminary hearing in January, prosecutor's played videos of Gabby in her room as evidence of abuse, and Diaz's mother and multiple officers took the stand to talk about what they had seen, watch that proceeding here.. Diaz's mother said she had issues with Brad.

"Brad had people that always called him and would threaten him wanted to fight him, got my daughter in a fight one time," she said.

An officer who responded to the scene said he found Gabby lying on the bathroom floor, covered by a towel from the waist down. The grandmother said she was attempting CPR, but the officer said the child's eyes were open and glazed over. He said he noticed scalding and bruises. The officer said the mother told police she didn't know why Gabby was in that condition, that Gabby was up all night and she didn't know what Gabby got into.

Both Fields and Diaz have criminal histories, and according to documents, both told investigators they suffer from multiple mental illness conditions. Diaz said she has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, social anxiety, agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Fields said he has been diagnosed with schizo affective disorder, social anxiety, agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder. Fields is listed as being non-compliant with his medication and not in counseling for his condition.

Fields, Diaz's boyfriend, was convicted of felony murder by jury and sentenced to life in prison in October.