The Dallas County jury sentenced an Indian-origin man to life imprisonment on Wednesday (June 26) for causing the death of his three-year-old foster child in October 2017.
The case received international scrutiny after Sherin Mathews' body was found in a culvert near her home two weeks after her father Wesley Mathews reported her missing. Mathews, hailing from Kerala, had pleaded guilty on Monday for intentionally or knowingly causing serious injury to the child. While he was originally charged with capital murder, the 12-member jury sentenced him to life imprisonment with eligibility for parole after 30 years of imprisonment.
Lead prosecutor Jason Fine told jurors that the cause of death was difficult to determine due to the state of decomposition of the body. "Sherin's little body was so badly decomposed, due to the actions of this defendant, the medical examiner could not determine an official cause of death, which could have dramatically changed the way we were able to prosecute this case," reported CNN.
Mathews had initially claimed on October 7, 2017, that she had gone missing after he made her stand outside their house for refusing to drink milk. Around five hours later, he reported her disappearance to authorities.
On October 22, 2017, when Sherin's body was found, Mathews changed his statement and admitted to accidentally killing her. He said that after he "physically assisted" her in drinking milk, she choked to death.
In the recent trial, prosecutor Sherre Thomas argued that the testimony was a lie and cited medical records indicating that it was "medically impossible for a child who is 3 years old to stand up and choke to death," PTI reported.
Victim of child abuse
Thomas also argued that Sherin was a victim of child abuse. Medical records of the body showed that she had five broken bones that were at various stages of healing.
Other details such as Mathews switching off the location tracker on his phone on the day of the murder was also cited as ways in which Mathews tried to hide evidence.
Speculations of possible child abuse had appeared before. Sherin's foster mother Sini Mathews was charged with child abandonment in November 2019 but the charges were eventually dropped due to lack of evidence and she was released on March 2019.
Defence attorney Rafael De La Garza claimed sentencing Mathews to life was "cruel". He argued that Mathews was a good father who panicked when his daughter choked and did not call the authorities for her. Since the prosecutors could not prove that Mathews killed his daughter, he claimed that he was "only guilty of not calling 911, the emergency helpline," according to the news agency.
Sherin Mathews was born in Nalanda, Bihar and lived in an orphanage since she was an infant. Initially named as 'Saraswati', she was adopted by the Mathews on July 18, 2016.