Udayavni Special

Indian-American adoptive father of Sherin Mathews challenges life term, seeks new trial


PTI, Jul 20, 2019, 9:52 AM IST

Houston: The Indian-American foster father of 3-year-old Sherin Mathews, sentenced to life after the toddler was found dead in a culvert in 2017, has filed a motion for a new trial, US media reported, less than a month after he said he would accept any punishment jurors chose.

In a case that attracted much international attention, Wesley Mathews, 39, pleaded guilty on June 24 to a lesser charge of injury to a child in Sherin’s tragic death.

He was originally charged with capital murder by authorities in the US state of Texas after they discovered Sherin’s highly decomposed body after a massive search that lasted 15 days.

Mathews was sentenced to life in prison on June 26 in the death of Sherin has appealed the sentence and his attorney also filed a motion for a new trial, The Dallas Morning News reported Thursday.

Had Mathews’ been found guilty of capital murder he would face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

If the motion for a new trial is not granted, Mathews would be in his late 60s by the time he is able to potentially be released on parole.

Mathews and his wife Sini Mathews, both hailing from Kerala, adopted Sherin from an orphanage in Bihar’s Nalanda district in 2016.

In a motion for a new trial, Wesley’s appeal attorney, Brook Busbee, states that Mathews should be granted a new trial because the “photographs of the remains of the decedent, both where her body was discovered and in the autopsy suite” were so prejudicial as to deny Mathews a fair trial.

At least two jurors were visibly affected when shown the graphic images, NBC News reported.

The images were not shown to the audience in the courtroom.

Busbee also stated that jurors were shown evidence that Sherin suffered “fractures from before she died. There was no evidence” that linked Mathews to the injuries and “introduction of that evidence unfairly prejudiced the jury.”

Mathews’ legal team will not go into details at this time as to what reason or evidence they have to petition a new trial, simply that they are “looking at all options,” the NBC report said.

Mathews has also been appointed a new attorney in his appeal process. Attorney Michael Casillas has requested all records pertaining to the case and trial, it said.

After telling the 12-member jury how much he regretted dumping Sherin’s body in a culvert near their home in Richardson city, Mathews testified that he would accept life in prison.

“I’m more than happy to take it,” Mathews had said.

He initially told police that Sherin went missing on October 7, 2017, after he put her outside their home at 3 am because she would not drink her milk. When he checked in on her 15 minutes later, Mathews said Sherin was missing.

He later admitted she died when he “physically assisted” her in drinking the milk and got chocked.

He said fear prevented him from waking his wife, Sini, a registered nurse, or calling 911 for help. Instead, he drove Sherin’s body to the culvert and dumped it there. Her body was found by a cadaver dog two weeks later, severely decomposed.

Police charged Sherin’s foster mother Sini with child abandonment in November 2017, after Mathews told officials that the couple left the toddler alone the night of her death while they went to dinner with their biological daughter.

Sini’s case was dismissed in March this year after prosecutors said they could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

Commenting on the plea of Mathews for a new trial, David Finn, who has been a state prosecutor and criminal trial judge and is now a defence attorney, said appeals are granted only for the most egregious trial mistakes. Finn is not connected to the Mathews case.

“Motions for a new trial are very, very, very rarely granted,” Finn was quoted as saying by WFAA.com.

Sherin’s death attracted the attention of the Indian government and the then External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj took keen interest in the case and also instructed the Indian mission in Houston to make sure that the Indian toddler received justice. India revoked the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) immigration status of Wesley and Sini after Sherin’s death.

The government further tightened the adoption process after Sherin’s tragic death.

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