In an unexpected turn, the Indian-American father, accused of killing his 3-year-old adopted daughter Sherin Mathews and hiding her body in a culvert in suburban Dallas has pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, according to media reports.
Wesley Mathews, 39, pleaded guilty to injury to a child by omission even before his capital murder trial opened at a Dallas district court on Monday. The lesser charge comes with a lighter possible sentence.
Mathews had been charged with capital murder of a person under the age of 10 in the death of his special needs adoptive daughter, Sherin, in October 2017.
If convicted, Mathews faced life in prison without the possibility of parole. Now, with the charge of first-degree injury to a child by omission, Mathews could get probation or face prison and life with the possibility of parole after serving 30 years, nbcdfw.com reported.
If he had been found guilty of capital murder, Mathews would have faced an automatic life sentence without parole for the minor Indian girl's tragic death in October 2017, an incident that attracted much international attention.
Mathews, and his wife Sini, both from Kerala, adopted Sherin from an orphanage in Bihar. Sini, registered nurse, was initially charged with child endangerment but prosecutors later dropped the charges citing a lack of evidence. Sini, who was present in the court on Monday, could be called to testify in the case, the reports said.
It was on October 7, 2017 when Sherin was reported missing by Mathews. He initially claimed that as punishment for not drinking her milk he sent Sherin outside at 3 a.m. to stand by a tree outside the backyard of their home in Richardson, Texas. When he checked in on her 15 minutes later, Mathews said Sherin was missing.
Two weeks later, when Sherin's body was found in a nearby culvert by a cadaver dog, Mathews changed his story, claiming he "physically assisted" his adopted daughter in drinking the milk and that the toddler choked and after coughing for a while her breathing slowed.
During a custody hearing for the Mathews' biological daughter, a child abuse specialist testified that Sherin's body showed signs of abuse and that she had a series of broken bones and injuries, in various stages of healing, that could not have happened prior to her adoption.
During Monday's hearing, lead prosecutor Jason Fine told jurors that the defendant knew exactly where Sherin was.
Fine said that Mathews' character and his actions following Sherin's disappearance will persuade the jury that it is "left with only one just verdict" -- life in prison.
Rafael De La Garza, Mathews' attorney, asked the jury for leniency in his client's punishment. He noted that Mathews does not have a prior criminal history and argued that he is not a threat to the public, Dallas Morning Post quoted the attorney as saying.
He said Mathews is remorseful and is expected to testify to provide an honest description of what transpired the night Sherin died.
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