His wife, Sini Mathews, quickly left the courthouse without commenting on the sentence. Originally charged with child abandonment, the registered nurse had her case dismissed earlier this year by prosecutors who said they couldn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
Before his capital murder trial was to begin Monday, Mathews pleaded guilty to a lesser charge: injury to a child by omission. On Wednesday, he said he accepted whatever decision the jury came to for his punishment, even if it were a life sentence.
“I’m more than happy to take it,” he said Wednesday morning.
Life is precisely what prosecutors advocated for in closing arguments. They argued that Mathews built a public persona of a good father, but ultimately failed to protect Sherin.
Fine accused Mathews of killing the girl and said the father acted out of anger because she wouldn’t finish the milk a doctor had prescribed for her nutrition. The father wanted to exert power over the girl, Fine said.
“He is a liar,” Fine said. “He had to be in control.”
Rafael De La Garza, Mathews’ attorney, defended his client against the murder accusation. He argued prosecutors couldn’t prove Mathews committed murder, otherwise he would have stood trial on that charge.
De La Garza contends that, by pleading guilty, Mathews was accepting responsibility for Sherin’s death, the result of his inaction when the child began to choke. The attorney fought against the perception that Mathews didn’t care about Sherin, and said his client will live with the consequences of her death for the rest of his life.
“You can see from the videos, you can see from the photos that they loved and adored Sherin,” De La Garza told the jury.
Photos and home videos played for the jury during the trial weren’t enough for Fine, however. He argued that Mathews showed his true colors with his behavior after Sherin’s death.
“Great guys and great dads, they don’t stick their daughters in trash bags and dump them in sewage drains,” Fine said.
A day before prosecutors and the defense rested their case Wednesday, Mathews took the witness stand Tuesday to describe the night the toddler died.
He told jurors that Sherin choked while drinking milk in the family’s garage but he didn’t call for emergency help or alert his wife — a registered nurse — because he was scared Child Protective Services would get involved.
Crippled by fear, Mathews testified, he put the girl’s body in a culvert, where it was found about two weeks later.
“I could not absorb what had happened. I could not believe that in a very quick time my child had gone from me,” Mathews said Tuesday. “I was really, really paralyzed.”
Mathews took the witness stand again Wednesday morning, when Fine grilled him on multiple inconsistencies between the account he told police and his testimony Tuesday.
On Tuesday, Mathews told the jury he brought the girl into the garage to see a new lawnmower to calm her down so she could drink her milk, and that he had played piano to pass the time — two things Fine said he never told police. Mathews also testified that he gave Sherin CPR, which Fine said also deviated from what he told police.
Son of woman charged in Wake Forest
Child Abuse case: ‘We never had a
WAKE FOREST, NC – Two Wake Forest parents were charged with child abuse causing serious physical injury, arrest records show.
Records state Michael Daniel Bell and Rebecca Ann Bell, of Washhouse Lane in Wake Forest, failed to enroll at least one child in school, abused at least one child and exposed a child to domestic violence and let at least one child live in a condemned home for a week.
The home that was condemned had no electricity and no running water and had holes in the ceilings, exposed nails in the floor and mold and raw meat throughout the house, according to warrants.
According to the couple’s Facebook page, they have nine children.
Rebecca Bell’s oldest son, 21-year-old Matthew Shirely, lives in Nevada and said that Michael Bell abused him and his siblings for years.
“You know, just getting like smacked around to like actual fistfights between me and my stepdad,” he said.
Shirely said his family lived in Nevada prior to living in North Carolina, where Rebecca Bell moved to get back together with Michael.
“Growing up, none of my siblings, me included, we never had a stable home. We bounced around. Off the top of my head, I could probably give you around anywhere from 16 to 20 addresses we’ve lived at,” Shirely said.
Shirely said he feels helpless being across the country while 10 of his siblings are split up in foster care.
“You know, they’ve gone through it in the past. They went through it when I was there. I went through it when I was with them, and it hurts knowing my siblings, like I’m not there to do anything about it,” he said.
A father himself, Shirely said he doesn’t understand how his mother could watch her children suffer.
“She’s seen the fights, she’s seen abuse, she’s seen the way Mike treats the kids, and it just amazes me someone could watch their kids go through that and not want something better,” he said.