A man who pleaded guilty to killing his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son was sentenced on Wednesday, but the boy’s family doesn’t believe justice was served.
Nicholas Hopkins, 30, was sentenced in District Court to 10-25 years in prison for second-degree murder in the death of Michael Onate in November 2015. The Las Vegas toddler had injuries over his entire body, including bruising, broken ribs and second-degree burns, that prosecutors said were the result of ongoing abuse.
The boy’s grandmother, Dalia Iracheta, criticized the sentence, saying that 10 to 25 years will never be long enough.
She has other grandchildren Michael Onate’s age who are just starting school.
“They’re already growing up, and Mikey won’t,” she told the Las Vegas Review-Journal by phone after the sentencing. “That’s not the life that Mikey had in front of him.”
Iracheta helped raise Michael Onate and his older brother, Nicholas Onate, who is now 8. She said both boys called her “mama.”
“When they told me what happened, you might as well have killed me too. That was the most horrible moment in my life,” she said.
She said Nicholas Onate talks about his little brother every day. He still sets a place at the table for him at dinner. He’s been attending therapy since his brother’s death.
Michael Onate’s mother, Emerald Onate, a co-defendant in the case, pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse or neglect resulting in death or substantial bodily harm. She hasn’t been sentenced yet and did not appear at Hopkins’ sentencing.
There’s no way that a guy who said he loves me would hurt my baby. But he lied to me, he was a snake. He lied to me every day.”
Emerald Onate spent a year in jail before she was released on her own recognizance. In that time, she said she’s focused on working, raising her young daughter and building a foundation to honor her son’s memory.
“I’ve accepted my responsibility and I know where I failed as a mother, I know that,” Emerald Onate told the Review-Journal by phone. “He was my baby. My baby. And I trusted the worst person with him.”
She hopes the foundation will help teach other mothers to recognize red flags and protect their children from abuse. She said she’s seen too many news stories about children killed by men their mothers trusted.
Emerald Onate said she never leaves her daughter alone with men now. She only lets female relatives watch the girl.
She’s furious that she didn’t have a chance to speak at Hopkins’ sentencing. She said she felt like she had failed her son, and that his voice had been taken away.
Both women said they’ve found healing and comfort in faith since the boy’s death. Iracheta said she doesn’t think she’ll ever be able to forgive Hopkins.
“I’m a Christian, but I can’t forgive him. I wish I could have told him to his face that I wish him the worst, whatever the prison system does to him,” she said.
Emerald Onate’s next court appearance is scheduled for September. She could face up to 12 years in prison when she’s sentenced.
“At the end of the day, I’m going to make sure my daughter is taken care of,” she said. “And for other babies, I’m going to be pushing, I’m going to keep fighting. Until the day I’m in my grave, I’m going to keep fighting.”