Houston: Sherin Mathews, a 3-year-old Indian girl who was found dead under suspicious circumstances in a culvert in Dallas after being reported missing by her Indian- American foster father, had a series of broken bones and injuries in various stages of healing, a doctor has testified before a court.
Sherin, reported missing on October 7, was found dead in a culvert about 1 km from her home on October 22 by a cadaver dog during a massive search for the missing toddler.
The Richardson Police Department in the US state of Texas and the FBI continue to investigate the toddler's death. The cause of death has not yet been determined by the medical examiner's office.
She was adopted by the Indian-American couple, Wesley and Sini Mathews, from an orphanage in India last year.
On October 7, Wesley called police and reported Sherin missing. He had initially told police that Sherin disappeared overnight after he ordered her to stand outside at about 3 am for not drinking her milk. When he returned, Wesley said she had disappeared and that her location was unknown.
Sherin's adoptive parents appeared before a court yesterday for a long Child Protective Services (CPS) custody hearing about their biological daughter, currently living with relatives in the Houston-area.
The couple was dressed in plain clothes, but both were shackled to their waist and did not speak to each other.
The prosecution pressed Sini about the previous CPS involvement, alleging Sherin earlier had a broken femur, elbow and tibia, but she did not confirm the allegations.
The prosecution called to the stand a pediatrician and child abuse expert, Susan Dakil of Referral and Evaluation of At Risk Children Clinic, who testified that the injuries were visible in various X-ray scans taken in September 2016 and February 2017. Dakil said the scans suggest the injuries were inflicted after Sherin was adopted from India.
The X-rays from February showed that fractures in Sherin's tibia and femur were in different stages of healing, WFAA TV station reported.
The pattern of injuries led Dakil to believe that Sherin was injured on separate occasions, but she could not say when they occurred. The doctor filed a report with Child Protective Services after seeing the X-rays, the report said.
Dakil testified that she became involved with the Mathews family in February 2017 when Sherin was hospitalised and was then diagnosed with "failure to thrive," meaning she fell below the normal growth curve.
The couple had lost custody of their 3-year-old biological child after Sherin went missing. The doctor's testimony came during the three-hour court hearing is crucial to determine whether Sherin's parents will get a chance to reunite with their surviving child.
Assistant District Attorney Denise Hale asked both Sini and then Wesley a series of questions about Sherin, her health throughout this year and the circumstances surrounding her death.
Wesley, 37, was brought to the courthouse in a van. He is expected to either surrender his parental rights for his old biological daughter or have them terminated by the state.
Sini, who aims to regain custody of her biological daughter sought right to visit her.
Sini took to the witness stand first, but invoked her fifth amendment right not to incriminate herself many times during questioning. One exception came when she was asked if she is trained a nurse to which she responded, "yes".
When Wesley took the stand, he opted to invoke his fifth amendment right as well and answered no questions pertaining to Sherin's death or disappearance.
The hearing, which ended for the week, will resume on Tuesday. Two more witnesses are scheduled to take the stand.
Sini, who is behind bars on child endangerment charges, had her bond reduced from $250,000 to $100,000 on Monday.
Wesley was 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.