DALLAS (AP) — A jury sentenced a north Texas father Wednesday to life in prison in the 2017 death of his 3-year-old daughter, whom he claims choked on milk before he panicked and placed her body in a culvert.
Her body was found about two weeks later.
The Dallas County jury deliberated for more than three hours in the punishment phase of Wesley Mathews, 39, in the death of Sherin Mathews. He will be eligible for parole after 30 years' imprisonment.
Mathews was charged with capital murder but pleaded guilty Monday to a lesser charge of injury to a child by omission.
Defense attorney Rafael De La Garza on Wednesday asked jurors to impose a lesser punishment because the child's death was the result of inaction by her father. The prosecution was unable to call any witness who ever saw Mathews mistreat his daughter, De La Garza said.
Prosecutors told jurors, however, that Mathews lied about how his daughter died, gave conflicting accounts of what transpired and showed no remorse over the death of his daughter, who was adopted from an orphanage in India. The claim that Sherin choked on milk cannot be believed because a medical examiner testified that it's unlikely a child can die in such a way, prosecutors said.
Mathews had told investigators that Sherin had developmental disabilities and was malnourished. He described a special diet regimen in which she had to often eat in order to gain weight. He testified that Sherin was startled late one night in October 2017 when he raised his voice as she was drinking milk for nourishment, causing her to choke on the drink. Her body went limp and he panicked when he was unable to resuscitate her, he testified. He didn't alert his wife, a registered nurse, or call 911 because he was afraid child welfare authorities would become involved.
"I could not absorb what had happened," Mathews said. "I could not believe that in a very quick time my child had gone from me."
He placed his daughter's body in a plastic bag and drove it to a culvert not far from their Richardson home where he left it, according to prosecutors and police. Her body was found by searchers about two weeks later. An autopsy determined she died from homicidal violence.
Mathews initially told police Sherin disappeared after he punished her by sending her out in the night to stand by a tree near the home.
He testified this week that if he were to relive that night he would seek help for Sherin after she collapsed.
His wife, Sini Mathews, initially was charged with child abandonment but prosecutors later dropped it for lack of evidence. The couple early last year lost their parental rights to their biological daughter.
The owner of the now-closed Mother Teresa Orphanage and Children’s Home in the Indian city of Nalanda previously disputed that Sherin was malnourished. The owner, Babita Kumari, said Sherin squinted in one eye but otherwise had nothing wrong with her when she was adopted in June 2016.