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Woman faked pregnancy before strangling teen, cutting baby from victim's womb, prosecutors say

Clarisa Figueroa was ordered held without bond on charges of killing Marlen Ochoa-Lopez.

CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT

By MEGAN CREPEAU | Chicago Tribune | Published: May 18, 2019

CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — Seven months ago, Cook County prosecutors say, Clarisa Figueroa began an elaborate and ultimately deadly ruse.

Then 45, she announced she was pregnant –  a surprise to her family who knew she had her fallopian tubes tied. Over the next several months, she posted photos on Facebook of an ultrasound and a decorated nursery, complete with a crib. She said she would name the baby Xander after a 20-year-old son who died last year.

As her phony due date drew near, prosecutors say, she and her 24-year-old daughter, Desiree, plotted to kill a pregnant woman to steal away her baby.

On Friday, prosecutors laid out in grisly detail how the bizarre plot led to the death of 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez and severe brain injuries to her baby boy, who remains in grave condition.

Ochoa-Lopez, a mother of a young child who was lured to a home on Chicago's Southwest Side with a promise of new baby clothes, reached out and touched the nose of the family dog as Figueroa, sitting atop her, took an agonizing four to five minutes to strangle her with a cable, prosecutors alleged.

After killing Ochoa-Lopez and cutting her baby from her womb, prosecutors said, Figueroa continued to claim the infant as her own, even seeking money on a crowdfunding site for the boy, who was hospitalized in grave condition.

Calling the killing "brutal and heinous," Judge Susana Ortiz ordered Figueroa, her pregnant daughter and boyfriend, Piotr Bobak, all held without bond in a crowded courtroom in the Leighton Criminal Court Building.

The elder Figueroa, now 46, and her daughter face one count each of first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child causing permanent disability. Bobak, 40, was charged with concealment of a homicidal death.

Ochoa-Lopez's decaying body was found in a garbage can outside the Figueroa home Tuesday with the coaxial cables used to strangle her still around her neck.

Police and prosecutors said the younger Figueroa gave "a full video-recorded confession" to assisting her mother in strangling Ochoa-Lopez.

In February, the elder Figueroa had posted about her purported pregnancy on a "Help a Mother Out" page on Facebook. The next month, she asked on the site who was due to give birth in May with a cheerful "where is the May mamas at," prosecutors said.

That same day, March 5, Ochoa-Lopez, who was then seven months pregnant, reached out on the page to Figueroa, who offered her brand-new clothes for her baby, prosecutors said.

On April 1, Ochoa-Lopez visited the Figueroa residence.

Figueroa, who prosecutors said had previously confided to her daughter that she needed help killing a pregnant woman and taking her baby, told her that they needed to kill Ochoa-Lopez, according to prosecutors.

The younger Figueroa refused and told her undisclosed boyfriend, who was at the home, what her mother wanted done. The boyfriend threatened to call the police. After Ochoa-Lopez left the house, the elder Figueroa told her daughter's boyfriend it had all been an April Fools' joke, prosecutors said.

On April 23, Ochoa-Lopez returned, driving her black Honda Civic to the Figueroa home.

As Ochoa-Lopez sat on a couch in the living room, the two Figueroa women discussed in the kitchen –  with music blaring to drown out their voices –  their plan to strangle her and cut the baby from the womb, prosecutors alleged.

On returning to the living room, the younger Figueroa distracted Ochoa-Lopez with a family photo album, while her mother stepped behind the couch and wrapped the cable around her neck, prosecutors said.

When Ochoa-Lopez was able to place her fingers between her neck and the cable, Figueroa scolded her daughter for not helping out, saying, "You're not doing your f----– job," prosecutors alleged.

The daughter then peeled back Ochoa-Lopez's fingers one by one, allowing her mother to tighten the cable around her neck, get on top her and choke the life out of her.

At her mother's request, the younger Figueroa retrieved a blanket, a large plastic bag and a butcher knife, prosecutors said. With her daughter out of the room, the elder Figueroa sliced open Ochoa-Lopez's abdomen from side to side, removed the baby from the womb and placed him inside a bucket, according to prosecutors.

As the daughter returned to the room, the elder Figueroa wrapped Ochoa-Lopez in a blanket, "shoved" her into the plastic bag and tied it tight, prosecutors said. The mother then lugged the bag to a garbage can hidden on the side of the family garage.

The elder Figueroa then called 911 and announced that on her own she had delivered a baby who was not breathing, prosecutors said. As paramedics arrived, she was holding the baby with its placenta and umbilical cord attached. Both were rushed to Advocate Christ Medical Center.

The elder Figueroa was examined but showed no signs that she has just delivered a baby, prosecutors said. The blood on her arms, hands and face was from killing Ochoa-Lopez and cutting the baby from the womb, they said.

Police began to investigate Ochoa-Lopez's disappearance after her husband reported her missing on April 24, the day after the killing. On that same day, Bobak joined his girlfriend in cleaning the residence of blood to conceal the killing, prosecutors said.

Police said detectives didn't begin to piece the case together until May 7 –  two weeks after Ochoa-Lopez went missing –  when a friend of the teenage mom mentioned that she took part on a chat site on Facebook. On checking out the site, detectives learned that Ochoa-Lopez had gone to the Figueroa home to collect baby clothes. Detectives then went to the home and interviewed the younger Figueroa, who eventually disclosed that her mother had just given birth to a baby. A search of the neighborhood revealed Ochoa-Lopez's car parked not far away, police said.

That same day, detectives went to the hospital to talk to the elder Figueroa, who denied that Ochoa-Lopez had showed up at her house on April 23. Police subpoenaed hospital records and eventually learned from DNA evidence that the newborn was not the child of the elder Figueroa as she had claimed.

On Tuesday, as detectives arrived to search the Figueroa home, Bobak was outside cleaning a rug with bleach and a hose, prosecutors said. When Bobak saw the officers, he dropped the bleach and hose, and walked away, they said.

Police found Ochoa-Lopez's remains inside the garbage can in the backyard. Detectives also found the remnants of burned clothes, and a fluorescent light exam revealed blood in the living room area, according to police and prosecutors.

Advocate Christ Medical Center has declined to comment on if police and the state Department of Children and Family Services were notified after it was determined that the elder Figueroa had not given birth on the day she showed up bloodied and with a baby she claimed to be hers.

On Friday, Jassen Strokosch, a DCFS spokesman, said the department wasn't notified about the case until May 9, when a mandated reporter –  a person required by law to report suspected child abuse or neglect –  notified the agency about the hospitalized newborn.

DCFS then started a parallel investigation with police and made contact with the hospital. The baby boy was placed that day into protective state custody, Strokosch said. On May 13, the agency allowed protective custody of the baby to lapse once it became clear the identity of the biological father, Strokosch said. Custody of the newborn was then turned over to the father.

Strokosch declined to comment on what caused the more than two-week delay in notifying the agency about the baby.

"I don't want to speculate," Strokosch said. "We don't know the circumstances of what was going on in the hospital."

___

Chicago Tribune's Elvia Malagon and Jeremy Gorner contributed to this report
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Marlen Ochoa-Lopez was found dead in a home on Chicago's Southwest Side. Baby Yadiel, seen in a local hospital, was cut from Ochoa-Lopez's womb.
TNS

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