What to Know
- Slain girl's adoptive father testified Tuesday, shares story of how his daughter choked on milk and stopped breathing.
- Wesley Mathews faces between probation and life in prison; he could receive parole after 30 years.
- Charges were previously dropped against the girls' mother, Sini Mathews.
After taking an unexpected turn Monday, the high-profile capital murder trial of Wesley Mathews, the North Texas father accused of killing his adopted daughter, continued Tuesday with the defendant taking the stand in his own defense.
Wesley Mathews, on Monday, pleaded guilty to injury to a child by omission in the October 2017 death of his 3-year-old special needs adoptive daughter, Sherin.
Mathews, 39, who was also charged with capital murder in the death of his daughter, has not admitting to killing Sherin, but rather to not seeking help for her as she was dying by either calling 911 or waking up his wife, who is a nurse.
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According to Mathews' latest account of what happened that evening, which has changed since the girl was first reported missing, Sherin choked and died when he "physically assisted" her in drinking milk. Afterward, he wrapped her body and placed it in a culvert. It was hours later when he called police to report her missing.
Mathews took the stand in his own defense Tuesday, and admitting to lies and mistakes he made with his daughter's care. Mathews' attorney said on Monday his client has accepted responsibility for what he's done — injury to a child by omission and not calling 911.
In court Tuesday, prosecutors played an interview Mathews had with detectives working the case. In the video, Mathews became emotional when told police that Sherin kept coughing and then her breathing slowed as she kept saying, "Dadda, dadda."
He said he tried to keep her warm but that eventually she stopped breathing. He told police he tried to perform CPR on Sherin while she was on his lap.
Richardson Missing Girl; Photos from the Investigation
In the video he told police he didn't wake his wife, who is a nurse, because he felt like it was too late and that "maybe there was another way to deal with this."
Of putting her body in a blue recycling bag and then in a culvert, he told police he was, "looking for a place to safely keep her." He said he didn't want to dump her, that he wanted to honor her.
In court, as Mathews watched video of his interview with police, he placed his hand over his mouth.
Prosecutors later called the medical examiner who testified that in all her experience, and that of her colleagues, she'd never seen a child die from choking on milk. She added that due to the decomposition of the child's heart and lungs, she was unable to perform an internal autopsy and determine her cause of death. Complicating the issue of determining how Sherin died is the absence of other evidence, including the clothes that Mathews washed before calling to report his daughter missing.
Prosecutors mentioned that while Mathews was in the Dallas County Jail, he wrote several letters, including at least one to his wife Sini, and that not one of the letters mentioned Sherin. Prosecutors said they referenced Wesley's favorite recipes, puzzles, poetry and wearing socks and shoes in jail.
A child abuse pediatrician who cared for the girl, Dr. Suzanne Dakil, said Sherin had five broken bones in the eight months before her death.
The state rested their case before 3 p.m.
Defense attorneys were only expected to call three witnesses, one of whom was Wesley's older brother.
Mathews took the stand shortly after 4 p.m. and first apologized to the police department for all the time and effort they put into locating his daughter when he knew where she was the entire time.
"I want you to know that I detest myself, I detest myself for being untruthful to police officers," Mathews said. "It pains and saddens me knowing that I was untruthful to them. I apologize to all of the dear ones who went heart and soul to look for my baby Sherin."
Mathews then began to recall the night his daughter died, saying the family was winding down for the night and after he got out of the shower he noticed Sherin was tossing and turning in her crib. He said he asked her if she was hungry and she nodded her head yes. He said he took her to the kitchen where he made her a fresh bottle of milk.
He said she began to drink the milk while he did some light cleaning and other things around the house.
He said he wasn't sure how much she'd had to eat or drink that day, but was concerned that she hadn't enough milk -- he said a feeding therapist recommend that she drink 16 ounces of milk each day. If she didn't have enough milk, Mathews said there was concern she might be put on a feeding tube.
Mathews said he took Sherin into the garage to show her the new lawn mower that she was fascinated with -- and to continue encouraging her to drink her milk. He said he fell asleep as they sat in the garage and when he woke up he told her to hurry up and finish her milk.
"It came out much louder than I expected and it startled her," Mathews recalled. "Immediately she tried to swallow what was in her mouth and she tried to cry at the same time, she was startled, and so as a result she started choking and coughing."
Mathews said he picked Sherin up and began rubbing her back, trying to relieve the coughing, but that it wouldn't subside. He said he cried out for Sini while trying to reach Sherin.
"At one point I felt like she was falling backward and I had to support her with my right hand and I felt that I could not control her so I had to lay her on the floor ... just to make sure that she was OK," Mathews said. "Her breathing had gotten much more heavier, I tried to call Mama, I tried to gently shake Sherin so she would be out of that spell but nothing was working."
"Pretty soon her head started going either direction and her head came to a still," Mathews said.
Mathews said he began performing CPR and tried to revive his daughter and that he didn't step away to call 911 or to wake Sini because he didn't want to stop trying to save her life.
When he realized she had died, he said he was stunned.
"I was way too shocked by what had happened. I could not absorb what had happened. I could not believe that in a very quick time my child had gone from me. I was just stunned by the whole thing. I was paralyzed," Mathews said.
"I sat there, I prayed to the Lord God. I did not know what to do. Intense fear started coming into me because I knew if CPS found out they would definitely come and demolish my house and I did not want Sini to come and see our Sherin lifeless. So I just stayed there because I knew Sini would collapse on seeing Sherin in this condition," Mathews said.
Mathews said he then decided to try to find a place where he could protect her body, preserving her until he could give her a proper burial.
The injury to a child by omission plea gives Mathews the chance for a lighter sentence than if he'd been found guilty of capital murder, which carries an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole. Mathews could get probation or face prison and life with the possibility of parole after serving 30 years. At this time it is unclear if this guilty plea removes the additional charges of capital murder and tampering with a corpse.
The Mathews’ adopted Sherin from an orphanage in India in 2016. Sherin reportedly suffered several broken bones since coming to the U.S. and had failed to thrive, according to testimony provided by medical professionals.
The Mathews’ parental rights over their biological daughter were terminated in January 2018. Their daughter has since been formally adopted by Sini’s family in the Houston area.
Wesley Mathews remains in custody on $1 million bond.
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