A Texas father accused of causing his 3-year-old daughter’s death when she wouldn’t drink her milk testified Tuesday that he believed if he “prayed hard and strong enough,” his daughter would be resurrected, like Lazarus.
Wesley Mathews, 39, of Richardson, was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison in the death of his adopted daughter, Sherin Mathews. The Dallas Morning News reported that jurors spent about three hours deliberating the fate of Mathews, who pleaded guilty Monday to a reduced charge of injury to a child by omission.
Lead prosecutor Jason Fine argued that Wesley Mathews was force-feeding his daughter when she died.
"This whole thing was about anger and frustration over milk," Fine said, according to the News.
Mathews was set to stand trial for capital murder when he entered into a plea agreement in the October 2017 death of his daughter. He told the court he would accept any punishment decided by the jury, even life behind bars.
"I'm more than happy to take it," he said Wednesday, according to the News.
Mathews' attorney, Rafael De La Garza, defended his client against the accusations that he killed his daughter and did not care about her. The defense lawyer told the newspaper his client's guilty plea showed he was taking responsibility for not doing enough when Sherin began choking on a mouthful of milk and died.
Sherin's badly decomposed body was found in a culvert Oct. 22, 2017, 15 days after her father reported her missing. She had last been seen around 3 a.m. Oct. 7 in her backyard, where her father initially told police he forced her to stand by a tree as punishment for not finishing her milk.
He said Sherin was missing when he went out to get her about 15 minutes later. Mathews was initially charged with abandoning or endangering a child, but WFAA in Dallas reported that he was later charged with capital murder after the girl's death was ruled a homicide.
Mathews and his wife, Sini Mathews, adopted Sherin in 2016. The girl, who had been abandoned by her birth parents in India, was in an orphanage there, WFAA reported.
Mathews testified this week that his family and the adoption agency were “blindsided” by the fact they were not informed that Sherin had genetic conditions.
Sherin was also undernourished and had food aversions, Mathews said.
According to the News, Mathews testified he was trying to get Sherin to drink her doctor-prescribed milk out of fear she could be taken away by child welfare workers if she didn't get enough to eat.
Reporters in the courtroom during testimony said jurors were shown the clothes Sherin wore when she died. The toddler's shirt and pants were covered with vomit.
Videotaped interviews with Mathews showed he changed his story of what happened to his daughter as the weeks of investigation wore on, the newspaper said.
Mathews told investigators in an interview after Sherin's body was found that he left Sherin alone in the family's home the night before she died as he took his wife and biological daughter to dinner, the News reported. When they returned, Mathews said, he took Sherin into the garage to get her to drink her milk.
He also threatened to put her outside with the coyotes "to build the fear factor in her," he told detectives, according to WFAA.
Mathews said Sherin took a large sip of her milk and began choking. He said despite his wife being a registered nurse, he did not wake her to help the toddler as she choked to death. He said he didn’t think there was time, WFAA reported.
"I could not absorb what had happened. I could not believe that, in a very quick time, my child had gone from me," Mathews told investigators, according to the News. "I was really, really paralyzed."
Prosecutors argued that the reality of how Sherin died will likely never be known. The condition of her remains made a proper autopsy impossible.
The medical examiner who ruled the girl's death a homicide testified it is unlikely that she choked to death on a sip of milk, the News reported.
Mathews said he wrapped the girl’s body in a plastic bag -- wanting to “do something honorable, do something nice” -- and put her in his car. He then dumped her body a few blocks from the family’s home.
"I wanted it to be somewhere I could see by my house," Mathews told detectives, according to WFAA.
The news station reported that surveillance footage outside a nearby home showed Mathews driving away from the house at 4:19 a.m. and returning 34 minutes later.
Mathews told investigators he believed his daughter was still alive. He reiterated that belief in his testimony Tuesday.
"I refused to believe that my child had completely gone from the world," he said in court, according to the news station.
Mathews told the court he “detests” himself and could have done more to help his daughter.
"It's just not fair that my heart still beats like my child's heart is not," Mathews said.
A Richardson police detective testified this week that he had doubts about Mathews from the moment investigators were called about the missing toddler, the News reported. Detective Victor Diaz testified that Mathews waited five hours before reporting Sherin missing.
He also called the department’s non-emergency number instead of 911.
“It sounded like someone reporting a missing item, not a missing child,” Diaz said, according to the News.
Prosecutors argued that Mathews and his wife failed to provide Sherin with adequate care, the newspaper said. A pediatrician testified that Sherin suffered multiple broken bones between her 2016 adoption and her death the following year.
According to the News, the doctor testified that she could not finger a specific cause for the fractures, but made a referral to Child Protective Services.
An FBI agent also testified that the couple could not find any photos of Sherin in their house after she was reported missing. There were several photos of their biological daughter in the home, the agent said.
Sini Mathews was initially charged with child abandonment after her husband told police they’d left the girl home alone the night before she died. Those charges were later dropped after prosecutors said they could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, the News reported.
Fine told the News he would reopen the case against the girl's mother if evidence turned up connecting her to the toddler's death.
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