Wesley Mathews, who is accused of killing his 3-year-old special needs adoptive daughter Sherin in 2017, was set to face his capital murder trial in Dallas, Texas, on Monday, June 24. As his capital murder trial began, he unexpectedly pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of injury to a child by omission. He now faces a lighter possible sentence.
The move—made moments before the jury was about to start hearing evidence—was not a plea bargain or a deal settled with prosecutors, but an admission of guilt to a charge in his indictment, according to CBS 11.
The 39-year-old from Texas was earlier charged with capital murder of a child under 10 years old and tampering with evidence. Prosecutors ruled out the death penalty, and Mathews was to face life in prison without the possibility of parole if he was convicted.
Now with the guilty plea of first-degree injury to a child by omission, the trial has been moved to the punishment phase. The jury is to decide a wide range of sentencing options: Mathews faces anywhere between probation and life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 30 years, according to local reports.
Mathews’ attorney said that he will admit to lies and mistakes he had made when his adoptive daughter went missing and was later found dead in 2017, reported CBS 11.
The local station also reported that prosecutors told the jury not to believe Mathews’ claim that the girl had inadvertently choked to death while she was forced to drink milk, adding that Sherin had previously suffered “multiple unexplained bone fractures.”
Sherin was adopted from India after she was abandoned by her biological family, according to the Times of India. Reports say she was developmentally disabled and had difficulty communicating.
Her body was found on Oct. 22, 2017, and identified the following day.
After she initially disappeared on Oct. 7, Mathews told police that he had told her to go outside and stand near a tree about 100 feet from their home at 3 a.m. as punishment for not drinking her milk. He claimed that after checking on her about 15 minutes later, she was gone. Police said he only reported her missing at about 8 a.m. according to lawandcrime.com.
He was then arrested on charges of felony endangerment to a child and was placed on electronic ankle monitoring before he bailed out of jail.
After police found Sherin’s body and determined that she was murdered, he was re-arrested on Oct. 23 for felony injury to a child. The cause of Sherin’s death was unknown because her body had been so badly decomposed when police found it, according to NBC 5.
Mathews told Richardson police a different story upon the discovery of Sherin’s body—that she had choked on her milk and died.
According to the arrest warrant cited by local media, Mathews said he had been trying to get Sherin to drink some milk in the garage at 3 a.m., and when she wouldn’t listen, he “physically assisted” her in drinking the milk.
“She was coughing and breathing slowed,” the affidavit said, Fox8 reported. “Eventually, Wesley Mathews no longer felt a pulse on the child and believed she had died.”
Mathews then said that he took her from the home, and hid her body in a culvert.
Alleged Hiding of Evidence and Prior Abuse
The Dallas News reported that prosecutors planned to tell the jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial that Sherin had a broken leg that her adoptive parents did not report for a week.
They also planned to tell the jury about how Mathews had failed to turn up to a scheduled appointment for Sherin with the Failure to Thrive Clinic and also canceled 19 physical therapy appointments and eight speech therapy appointments, the outlet reported.
Court records cited by The Dallas News showed that all internet history and a file titled “Sherin log” had been deleted from the adoptive parents’ computer after Sherin disappeared.
Court records also showed that “a significant amount of messages and content were deleted,” including all communications between the two adoptive parents, Wesley and Sini, from Mathews’ cell phone, which was seized by Richardson police, the outlet reported.
Prosecutors had also originally planned to allege that Mathews had broken Sherin’s arm and leg in February 2017, according to court documents cited by The Dallas News.