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SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — A Stockton woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to abusing her 4-year-old stepdaughter, leading to her death.

The San Joaquin County District Attorney reports 22-year-old Zulma Chavez will be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison on March 2 as she faces one count of second-degree murder and two counts of felony child abuse and endangerment.

Zulma Chavez in an undated mugshot provided by the San Joaquin County District Attorney.

On Nov. 25, 2018, court records say a surveillance camera in the family’s Stockton home showed her yelling at 4-year-old Serenity Moore and her two siblings from a couch. Moore is later grabbed and dragged by Chavez into a bedroom and out of sight of the camera.

The camera is able to pick up Chavez telling Moore, “You’re gonna cry, you’re gonna cry,” according to court documents. The 4-year-old’s last words were, “I’m not gonna cry, I’m not.”

Records say the camera then picked up the little girl’s screams before “there is a horrific thud and shortly thereafter the crying stops.”

Chaves reportedly called Moore’s father, Kevin Carames Sr., who later told officials the girl had hit her head after running into a bed.

Moore was taken to UC Davis Medical Center with a brain bleed. She later died at the hospital.

Court records show hospital staff noted several other healing injuries on Moore’s body that were consistent with being abused.

Moore’s biological mother spoke to FOX40 after the girl’s death. Malinda Beach said her ex-boyfriend had custody of their three young kids. According to Beach and information from court documents, Moore’s 5-year-old brother told officials their stepmother slapped, kicked and stomped on them.

“The truth was she picked up my daughter and hung her above her head and dropped her,” Beach said at the time.

Chavez told investigators several different stories before admitting to causing the deadly injury but claiming it was an accident, according to court records.

“This is a horrific, heartbreaking case of abuse and murder of an innocent, defenseless child,” said San Joaquin County DA Verber Salazar. “However, in a case of this nature where two young boys, who were home at the time of the offense, could have been called to testify before a jury, a judgment call was made to avoid that likelihood. These young boys need to move forward and try to enjoy what is left of their childhood and not face the terrifying prospect of testifying in court.”

Carames was also arrested in January of 2019 on suspicion of felony child abuse. The felony charges against Carames were later dropped and in 2019 he pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor child endangerment. He was given four years of formal probation.


Correction: A previous version of this story said Chavez will be sentenced on March 22. That has since been corrected to say March 2.