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HOUSTON: Indian-American foster parents of deceased 3-year-old Sherin Mathews, have lost all the rights to see their biological daughter for now, a judge ruled.
Sherin, reported missing on October 7, was found dead in a 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, from an orphanage in India last year. Her adoptive parents lost custody of their biological child after Sherin went missing.
Wesley, 37 and Sini Mathews, 35 who were attempting to keep the visitation rights for their 4-year-old biological daughter in, after the death of Sherin will now have to wait as a court has found aggravated circumstances and has denied the couple of seeing their biological child until a former civil trial has taken place.
The state convinced a judge that Sini and Wesley are not fit to be parents due to what happened to Sherin and shouldn't be able to visit their biological daughter. The 4-year-old will remain to live with her relatives outside Houston.
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 older 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.
The Mathews are still entitled to a civil trial at a later date, but Child Protective Services (CPS) does not have to provide any family reunification services at this time.
Texas CPS does not have to provide services to Wesley and Sini that would help them reunite with their biological daughter, a judge ruled yesterday.
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.
The couple were expected to either surrender their parental rights for their 4-year-old daughter or have them terminated by the state during the initial hearing.
Wesley is facing more serious charges of inflicting injury to a child.
Police said Wesley told them his daughter died choking on milk that he forced her to drink. He admitted to moving her body. He turned off the location tracking on his phone when he is believed to have taken Sherin's body to the culvert.
Both Sini and Wesley who remain in detention in Dallas County jail attended yesterday's hearing. They remained present as a doctor, CPS investigator and a police detective offered testimony about the health of their daughter and the investigation into Sherin's disappearance.
Dr Dakil, a pediatrician who had treated Sherin 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 said 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 Richardson police interviewed both Wesley and Sini, but got the feeling they weren't 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 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.
While discussing Wesley's statements to police, Farmer said he became frustrated as Sherin wouldn't or couldn't drink her milk and so he forced her to drink and she choked.
He said he was holding her when she died, stroking her because she was cold and he was trying to warm her up. He said he wrapped her in a blanket and put her in the culvert though he intended to return to give her a proper burial.
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 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.
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 USD 250,000 to USD 100,000.