Houston: The Indian-American foster father of Sherin Mathews, a 3-year-old Indian girl whose body was found in a culvert near their suburban Dallas home in mysterious circumstances last October, was today indicted for capital murder by a grand jury.
The murder charge, which could carry the death penalty, was filed against Wesley Mathews, 37, after an autopsy in the death of the toddler adopted from an orphanage in Bihar showed that she died of “homicidal violence.”
Sherin’s foster mother, 35-year-old Sini Mathews, was also indicted on a charge of abandoning a child. The punishment for that ranges from two to 20 years in prison with a fine up to $10,000 (Dh367,000).
Authorities have not said what happened to Sherin, and court documents only allege that Mathews caused his daughter’s death using a deadly weapon “by a manner and means unknown to the grand jury.”
“We can’t go into details, but based on that autopsy report, we were able to determine that we can seek capital murder for this case,” Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said at a news conference announcing the indictment.
Dallas County court records show Sherin’s adoptive father also faces charges of abandoning a child and tampering with evidence.
The fate of the couple’s 4-year-old biological daughter is still being decided with another child protective services (CPS) hearing scheduled for the end of this month. They can either forfeit their parental rights, or the court will decide to schedule a civil trial to possibly terminate their rights.
Last month, the couple, hailing from Kerala, temporarily lost their rights to see their biological child, who has been placed with a family member in the Houston area.
Sherin went missing from her home in Richardson on October 7 and her body was found on October 22 in a culvert in suburban Dallas by a cadaver dog after an intense search. The toddler’s body was identified days later using her dental records.
Initially, Wesley told police that he put her outside their home at 3am to discipline her for not drinking her milk.
His story changed after her body was found in a culvert, telling police that he “physically assisted” with pouring the milk down Sherin’s throat and then moved her body after he realised she had choked and died.
Wesley also admitted to police that he removed Sherin’s body from the home after changing his story multiple times on the events leading up to her death. Wesley and his wife Sini also left Sherin home alone the night before her disappearance, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson thanked Richardson Police Department for its work on the Sherin case.
She also hailed India’s Consul-General in Houston Anupam Ray for his assistance in the case.
“I also want to thank the Consul General of India, Anupam Ray, for his assistance as we move forward. Sadly, Sherin appears to be one of the many abused and neglected children in Texas. We are committed to continue our diligent and steadfast efforts to seek justice on their behalf,” Johnson said.
The District Attorney said it’s now up to law enforcement to find justice for Sherin.
Both Consul General Anupam Ray and and Deputy Consul Surendra Adhana were personally present at Dallas County courts when the indictments were announced by District Attorney Johnson. Trial dates will be decided by a judge.
Ray, who has been in touch constantly with Johnson and her team of prosecutors — Michael Snipes and Erin Price — about this case, exuded confidence that justice would be delivered.
“Wesley and Sini will face trial. The prosecutors have and will pursue this case zealously so that justice is done. India has not forgotten this little child. May she rest in peace,” Ray told PTI.
The Medical Examiner’s office ruled last week the toddler died of “homicidal violence.”
Prosecutors are not revealing what else they may know about how the little girl was killed.
“The evidence is still unfolding in this case. We don’t want anything to jeopardise this case. We think that we have a great case, we plan to pursue this case vigorously, and we don’t want anything to hamper it in any kind of way,” Johnson said.
In a statement, Mitchell Nolte and Gregg Gibbs, attorneys for Sini Mathews, said, the indictments today confirmed that Sini had “nothing to do” with the tragic death of Sherin.
Wesley, arrested and charged with felony injury to a child, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison. He is still in the Dallas County jail on a $1 million bond.
His wife Sini, is also in jail, held on a $100,000 bond for child endangerment/abandoning for allegedly leaving Sherin home alone while she, her husband, and their other daughter went to dinner on October 6, the night before Wesley reported Sherin missing.