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Medical examiners can’t determine cause of death for little girl whose body was found in bedroom closet

Sierra Patino's body was left in the closet for days while her mom and boyfriend stayed in the apartment.

HOUSTON — Medical examiners announced Wednesday that they could not determine the cause of death of the little girl whose body was found in her family’s bedroom closet back in August.

Five-year-old Sierra Patino’s lifeless body was left in the closet for days while her mom and boyfriend stayed in the apartment. The two even took a trip to Galveston before calling the police, according to court records.

Her body was recovered by authorities six days after she died, according to police.

KHOU 11 requested a copy of the autopsy report but the request was denied.

Dr. Paul Radelat, M.D., has performed thousands of autopsies in his career and he says an 'undetermined' cause of death is a "failure."

“It’s an admission of failure to start with, because we’re supposed to know enough to find out what is the cause of death,” Radelat said. “I would say undetermined is not good. You don’t want to have a reputation of saying that too many times.”

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences says it is “unable to determine a cause and manner of death,” but would not elaborate.

Dr. Radelat says he respects the work performed by the HCIFS and would not consider this to be the institute's normal determination.

“I would say, coming out of here, 'undetermined' is kind of unusual," Radelat said. "Kind of unusual."

Dr. Radelat says there are many non-visible causes of death, and as time passes prior to autopsy, vital clues can be lost.

Both Priscilla Torres, Sierra’s mom, and Santiago Esparza, the boyfriend, have been arrested and charged with tampering with a human corpse.     

"It's very troubling, no matter how the child died, whether it's accidental or intentional death...for a body to be in the closet for several days, that's unthinkable," said Lt. Larry Crowson with Houston Police Department.

RELATED: Prosecutors: Mother's boyfriend to be charged in death of 5-year-old girl Sierra Patino

The Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office said the case is now in the hands of law enforcement.

RELATED: Court docs: Mom, boyfriend charged in Sierra Patino's death stayed in apartment for 3 days while child's body was in closet

Both suspects are still in jail.

Esparza’s next court date is schedule for Thursday. Priscilla’s next court date is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2020.

Credit: KHOU
Santiago Esparza, Priscilla Torres, Sierra Patino