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Prosecutors: Woman accused of killing a pregnant teen and taking her baby plotted it for weeks

Posted at 4:28 PM, May 17, 2019

Editor's note: This article contains graphic descriptions of what prosecutors say happened in the killing of a pregnant woman.

A Chicago woman accused of strangling a pregnant teen and cutting out her unborn baby had planned the killing for weeks, having first lied that she was expecting a child, and then using Facebook to find and lure her target, authorities said Friday.

Clarisa Figueroa, 46, strangled 19-year-old Marlen Ochoa-Lopez at Figueroa's Chicago home last month, then removed the teen's baby from her body and pretended it was hers, authorities say.

Figueroa and her daughter, Desiree Figueroa -- who police say helped in the strangulation -- were arrested this week after investigators found the teen's body in a trash can in Figueroa's yard Tuesday.

Clarisa and Desiree Figueroa, 24, were charged Thursday with first-degree murder and aggravated battery of a child less than 13 years old. Clarisa Figueroa's boyfriend, Piotr Bobak, 40, has been charged with concealing the death of a person and one felony count of concealing a homicidal death.

Police have said Ochoa-Lopez, a high school student, went to Figueroa's home at least twice this year after connecting on a Facebook group for mothers, where the teen accepted Figueroa's offer of baby items.

The baby boy is hospitalized in grave condition, and was on life support Friday, Chicago police said.

Also Friday, assistant state's attorney James Murphy, standing in the lobby of a Cook County court building, revealed the following allegations:

• Clarisa Figueroa lost a 20-year-old son, Xander, in 2018.

• In October, she announced she was pregnant -- a surprise to her family, because she had her fallopian tubes tied.

• In December, Figueroa posted an ultrasound photo on Facebook of a baby she claimed to be carrying.

• In February, she posted on a "Help a Mother Out" Facebook page that she would name her baby Xander, and posted a photo of a crib and a decorated baby room.

• On March 5, Figueroa posted to the Facebook group: "Who is due in May? Where is the May mammas at?"

• That same day, she connected on that page with Ochoa-Lopez, then seven months pregnant. Figueroa offered new clothes for the teen's baby, and suggested that she contact her in a private message.

• Sometime before April 1, Figueroa told her daughter that "she needed help killing a pregnant woman and taking a baby."

• On April 1, Ochoa-Lopez went to Figueroa's home for the first time, and left.

How prosecutors say the killing happened

On April 23, Murphy said, Ochoa-Lopez returned and sat on a couch. While Desiree Figueroa distracted the teen with a photo album, the elder Figueroa wrapped a cable around the teen's neck from behind, Murphy said.

When the teen was able to put her fingers between her neck and the cable, the elder Figueroa told her daughter that she wasn't doing her job, Murphy said.

Desiree "then stepped up and began to peel the victim's fingers from the cable one by one," Murphy said.

Clarisa Figueroa then got on top of the teen and strangled her for about four to five minutes, the prosecutor said.

When Ochoa-Lopez was dead, the elder Figueroa cut the teen's baby from her womb, and then called 911 and said she'd just delivered a baby that wasn't breathing, according to Murphy. Both were hospitalized.

Ochoa-Lopez's husband reported her missing on April 24, police say.

But it would take nearly three weeks before police unraveled what happened, culminating in investigators finding Ochoa-Lopez's remains in a trash can in the backyard of Clarisa Figueroa's home, authorities say.

The victim's family alleges police should have made the arrests much sooner, saying that investigators didn't immediately act on leads that the family and community members were providing.

'A nightmare, a horror film'

The defendants were expected to appear in court for a bond hearing Friday. Before the hearing, Ochoa-Lopez's family publicly asked that the suspects not be granted bond.

Julie Contreras, speaking on the family's behalf, said the relatives were living "a nightmare, a horror film."

"Giving (the suspects) no bond not only helps this family, it helps the public security in the city of Chicago, the nation and probably even the world," Contreras, of the League of United Latin American Citizens , said Friday at a Cook County court building.

Police say their break in the case came last week

Police say a break in the case came May 7 when a friend of the victim told detectives about her Facebook exchanges with Figueroa before she vanished.

Detectives visited the Figueroa home that day. Desiree Figueroa told them her mother was in the hospital for problems with her legs. Then she revealed that her mother had just delivered a baby, authorities said.

The investigators searched the area and found Ochoa-Lopez's vehicle "not far away," Chicago police Deputy Chief of Detectives Brendan Deenihan told reporters Thursday,

That same day, detectives interviewed the elder Figueroa at a hospital. She denied Ochoa-Lopez came to her house April 23 but admitted to meeting her in the past, Deenihan said.

Suspicious, detectives spent the next several days subpoenaing hospital records and collecting DNA samples from the baby and Figueroa.

"We determined that Clarisa (Figueroa) was not the mother through DNA," Deenihan said.

DNA testing did show that Ochoa-Lopez's husband, Yovani Lopez, was the father, Deenihan said.

The woman's body was found in a trash can this week

Tuesday, armed with a search warrant, crime lab officers searched Figueroa's house.

Detectives discovered bleach and cleaning solutions in the home, along with evidence of burned clothing and blood on the floors of the living room, bathroom and a hallway, according to Deenihan.

"They are finding remains of burned clothes, they are finding some blood indication on the living room carpet, some blood indication on the hallway, some blood indication on the bathroom floor," Deenihan said.

Ochoa-Lopez's body was found in a garbage can in the back yard, along with a cable used to strangle her and other evidence, police said.

A medical examiner determined that Ochoa-Lopez died of strangulation. Early Thursday, Desiree Figueroa told detectives she helped her mother strangle Ochoa-Lopez, police said.

The motive for the killing is under investigation, but Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Thursday he believes Clarisa Figueroa wanted to raise the child as her own.

Family says police had opportunities to learn what happened sooner

Ochoa-Lopez's family said they notified authorities about her interaction with the woman much sooner that May 7.

Her husband tried to immediately report her missing to the police, but was told to come back in 72 hours, according to Jacobita Cortes, a pastor of a Chicago church that the family had asked for help.

The husband did, and the family hired a private investigator who Cortes says helped to find Ochoa-Lopez's car near the Figueroa home.

They also turned to the church for help in reaching out to the community at large, plastering the neighborhood with fliers.

Residents last week started calling the church to report that they had seen the young mother enter the house where she was found dead. They said that one of the women who lived there, in her 40s, suddenly had a baby without ever appearing to be pregnant, according to Cortes.

Ochoa-Lopez's father, Arnulfo Ochoa, said there were opportunities to find his daughter sooner.

"(The private detective) went into that (Facebook) page and found all the information, and he gave it to the police. But even then, they took too long to get there," Ochoa said at a news conference Thursday.

"There's going to be anger associated," Johnson, the police superintendent, said Thursday. "When things of this nature occur, the first thing people do is look in retrospect, what could we have done to maybe prevent this? I know our detectives do the best they can."