Man sentenced for killing 4-year-old girl with Christmas Eve bear hug

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There is justice for a 4-year-old girl killed on Christmas Eve after her mother's boyfriend pleaded guilty Thursday at the Mecklenburg County courthouse.

Eyewitness News reporter Glenn Counts was at the courthouse and spoke to Mariya Owens’ mother about the emotional day.

"I just want him to know that he still has to answer to somebody after this life," Jenipher Fofana said.

Demarcus Heath gave Mariya a bear hug so tight it cracked her chest, damaging her aorta.

[READ MORE: 4-year-old girl died from blunt force injuries on Christmas Eve]

"(It’s) devastating, for the fact of, when he ran up he told me she was choking so I assumed she was choking," Fofana said.

The incident happened in the bathroom at a home on Timber Commons Lane near Monroe Road. Prosecutors said Mariya's last words were, “Are you Santa?”

[RELATED: Man accused of killing 4-year-old girl on Christmas Eve given public defender]

That was when Heath grabbed her.

He was sentenced Thursday to 20-25 years in prison.

"This is closure in my life,” Fofana said. “Finally, I found out what happened with my kid -- 20 years, I don't think it's enough."