Houston: The foster parents of Sherin Mathews have been denied access to their biological daughter by a court, weeks after the three-year-old Indian girl was found dead under suspicious circumstances under a culvert in Dallas.
Sherin, reported missing on October 7, was found dead under the culvert about 1 km from her home in suburban Dallas on October 22 by a cadaver dog during a massive search for the missing toddler.
She was adopted by the Indian-American couple, Wesley and Sini Mathews, hailing from Kerala, from an orphanage in Nalanda, Bihar, last year. Her adoptive parents had lost custody of their three-year-old biological child after Sherin went missing.
On Tuesday, a judge denied Wesley and Sini access to their biological daughter. The ruling resulted due to an expert testimony indicating that Sherin may have suffered abuse at the hands of her parents prior to her death.
The next hearing would be a trial that could serve to strip the Mathews' parental rights. A date has not yet been set.
Wesley, 37, and Sini, 35, who were attempting to keep the visitation rights for their daughter, will now have to wait until a former civil trial takes place.
The state convinced the judge that Sini and Wesley were not fit to be parents due to what happened to Sherin and shouldn't be able to visit their biological daughter. Their biological daughter is currently staying with relatives.
The Child Protective Services (CPS) does not have to provide services to Wesley and Sini that would help them reunite with their biological daughter, state district judge Cheryl Lee Shannon ruled.
The couple has not lost parental rights, but they will not receive help from the state to regain custody of their daughter, the judge said.
A hearing to determine a permanent cutoff of parental rights will likely take place in 2018.
Police arrested Sini on charges of child endangerment after the death of Sherin. According to investigators, Sini left Sherin home alone while she, her husband and their biological daughter went out for dinner. The next day, Wesley reported Sherin was missing. Her body was later found in a culvert near the family's home.
Wesley is facing more serious charges of inflicting injury to a child.
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.
Wesley Mathews later changed his tune, saying Sherin choked to death after he "physically assisted" her as she drank her milk.
Both Sini and Wesley who remain in detention in Dallas County jail attended Tuesday's hearing.
Last week, during the first day of the custodial hearing, Dr Suzanne Dakil testified she was worried Sherin had been injured by her parents and reported her concerns to CPS.
Dakil on Tuesday told the court that she did see the couple's biological daughter on one occasion, during a physical examination before she entered foster care, and did not see any sign of neglect or abuse.
The second person to testify was CPS investigator Kelly Mitchell, who told the judge Sini Mathews remained "eerily calm" and was "unemotional" when CPS showed up on October 9 to remove her biological daughter from the home.
Mitchell said she noticed several photographs of the couple's biological daughter around the living room, but none of Sherin. According to Mitchell, the couple had a different connection with Sherin than they had with their biological daughter.
The next witness to take the stand was detective Jules Farmer of Richardson police. Farmer is the lead detective of the case.
Farmer said that the Richardson police interviewed both Wesley and Sini, but got the feeling they were not telling the truth because their stories were not consistent with one another.
Farmer said the Mathews all slept in one bedroom. Sini, Wesley and their biological child all shared one bed, Sherin slept in a crib in the same room.
The detective told the court that Sini told police that she woke up at about 5 am on October 7, the day Sherin disappeared, and found her husband sitting at the breakfast table with "a weird look on his face." Sini said she noticed Sherin was not in her crib and asked Wesley where she was.
Farmer said Wesley told police when he called to report his daughter missing, he called the non-emergency number because he thought 911 service was down. Farmer said she did not recall emergency service being offline that day.
Farmer said Wesley found about Sherin's medical condition during a trip to India shortly before her adoption in July 2016, but chose to follow through on the adoption anyway.
The couple invoked their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and has refused to answer questions throughout the hearing.
The Richardson Police Department 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.
Wesley was arrested and charged with felony injury to a child, which carries a sentence of up to life in prison.
Sini, who is behind bars on child endangerment charges, had her bond reduced from $250,000 to $100,000.