SALT LAKE CITY — She once was a healthy and normal 7-year-old girl who thrived with a foster family who loved her.

But now "K.L.," as she is called in court documents, cannot walk or talk and will be in a semi-vegetative state for the rest of her life.

The reason? Prosecutors say her mother viciously beat the girl on July 2, 2009, which caused permanent brain damage.

"It was flat-out torture," prosecutor Mandy Rose said of the abuse Emperatriz Meza-Reyna inflicted on the girl. "It's a miracle she's not dead."

To compound the tragedy, the woman lost custody of the girl for previously abusing her, but the child was returned to her mother.

"Three months later, we have (the child) almost dead," Rose said.

Meza-Reyna, 22, of West Valley City, was sentenced Friday to one to 15 years in prison for inflicting serious physical injury on a child intentionally, a second-degree felony; and zero to five years behind bars for child abuse, a third-degree felony.

"I can think of very few cases that are as severe as this that I have seen in years," said 3rd District Judge Vernice Trease, looking through pictures of the child's battered body.

The judge ordered the sentences to run consecutively to each other and any others Meza-Reyna might have.

Doctors found a severe brain injury in the child that they said could only have happened if the girl had endured "a massive blow or blows" to the head or had her head slammed into something hard, according to court documents. She also had bruises on her arms, legs, left ankle and buttocks as well as a bite mark on her upper abdomen.

The mother also scribbled on the girl's face with a felt marking pen so hard that it pierced the skin, Rose said.

There was a previous abuse case involving the same child when she was 5. The girl was taken from Meza-Reyna and put in foster care after doctors in 2008 found a serious head injury and multiple bruises. Meza-Reyna was convicted in that case of two counts of child abuse, a third-degree felony.

During the investigation of the 2008 case, Meza-Reyna told police she had hit, bitten and choked the girl, covered her mouth and nose so she could not breathe for up to two minutes at a time, and once strangled the child so roughly that the girl wet herself.

Defense attorney John Wells said that there is no excuse for what happened, but it might help to understand the situation better if one could recognize that Meza-Reyna was only 14 when she had this child and has since had two other children who have not been abused, and that Meza-Reyna never had the chance to develop the skills needed to be a good parent.

He said she has difficulty expressing appropriate emotions, but in his dealings with her, Meza-Reyna has shown herself to be "very, very remorseful."

However, Rose disagreed.

She said Meza-Reyna has continued to insist the child simply fell down a flight of stairs and that between the 2008 and 2009 cases, Meza-Reyna was offered a series of services and classes to help her become a better parent.

The Division of Child and Family Services officially returned the girl to Meza-Reyna in April 2009. In July, the child was back in the hospital nearly dead.

"She had a foster family who loved her," Rose said. "They would have taken her."

Prosecutor Rob Parrish said that in between these two court cases, Meza-Reyna had been ordered to be deported to Mexico. She had plane tickets for herself and the other children, but none for this girl.

"This is just pathological parenting," Parrish said.

At the sentencing, Meza-Reyna told the judge, "The only thing I have to say is if there are services (in prison), I would be grateful."

e-mail: lindat@desnews.com