Prosecutors charged a man with murder on Thursday in connection with the death of a 5-year-old boy in Massachusetts nearly a decade after the child’s body was found in a suitcase on the side of a highway.
Alberto Sierra Jr., 32, pleaded not guilty during his arraignment in Worcester County for the death of Jeremiah Oliver, officials said. Sierra, who was also charged with disinterring of a body for allegedly moving Oliver’s remains, was ordered held without bail. A spokesperson for Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. said the office is not currently publicly sharing any information about what led to the murder charge.
Oliver was last seen in Fitchburg, where he lived with his mother and siblings, on Sept. 14, 2013, the district attorney’s office said. His disappearance wasn’t reported until two months later when his 8-year-old sister shared concerns with a teacher and a counselor at school, CBS News reported. The sister told authorities her mother’s boyfriend used a belt and his fists to beat her, her siblings and her mother, court records said.
Police arrested Sierra, who was dating Oliver’s mother, on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in December of 2014. They also charged Elsa Oliver, the boy’s mother, with two counts of reckless endangerment of a child and two counts of accessory after the fact of a felony. The family was being monitored by state social workers since 2011, CBS News previously reported, and court records reportedly showed that Sierra had a history of abusing women and children.
Investigators didn’t find Oliver’s body until the following year in April. They recovered a suitcase with a body inside on the side of a highway near Sterling, which is about 12 miles from Fitchburg, authorities said.
Medical examiners deemed Oliver’s death a homicide in 2016, prosecutors said. The autopsy report listed his cause of death as “homicidal violence of undetermined etiology.”
Though Oliver’s death had been ruled a homicide, at that point in the investigation his mother and Sierra were not facing any murder charges. They’d been charged with kidnapping of a child and multiple counts of assault and battery.
Both Sierra and the mom pleaded guilty to several charges in August of 2017, District Attorney Early said at the time. The charges were only connected to Oliver’s siblings. Prosecutors said the children were required to stand in a cold shower or kneel for extended periods of time, CBS News Boston reported.
Early’s office had dropped charges against the pair related to Oliver. Prosecutors at the time said they’d dropped some of the charges against the mom and boyfriend to avoid possible double jeopardy claims, CBS News Boston reported.
Sierra was sentenced to six or seven years in state prison with three years of probation after he pleaded guilty to three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, two counts of assault and battery and two counts of reckless endangerment of a child, District Attorney Early said at the time.
He was not in custody when he was arrested Wednesday on murder charges in connection with Oliver’s death, authorities said.
The boy’s mother pleaded guilty to assault and battery and two counts of reckless endangerment of a child in August of 2017, prosecutors said. She was sentenced to more than seven years in prison and local media reported she was released in 2020.