Sherin Mathews' adoptive parents, Sini and Wesley Mathews are back in court for their criminal charges.
The two had their first court setting Feb. 20 in which a pass was granted, a new court date was scheduled for March 7 in which a pass was granted also. Their next setting is for March 22.
The body of 3-year-old Sherin was found in Oct. 2017 in a culvert near her Richardson home. Both Sini and Wesley were later jailed as authorities investigated Sherin's disappearance and death further.
Sherin's story has made headlines internationally with many interested in following along to find out how and why she died.
Sini and Wesley have been to court once already in a Child Protective Services case for their biological child. It is during this hearing that information was released about the conditions in which Sherin was forced to live in prior to her death. The state asked Sini about reports of Sherin's broken bones and fractures she had endured and her being classified as a "failure to thrive" patient because of her continuous weight loss.
After several hearings, the couple voluntarily relinquished their parental rights to their biological child. She is living in the Houston area with relatives and neither Sini nor Wesley may legally have contact with her.
Now that the two are returning to court for their criminal charges, we wanted to take some of the most asked questions surrounding the case to an attorney for answers.
WFAA sat down with Dallas attorney, Shaun Naidoo who practices both criminal and civil law to explain and understand the trial process.
Why are their two separate criminal trials for Sini and Wesley?
Both Sini and Wesley individually have separate charges.
Sini is charged with abandoning a child, which holds a punishment that ranges from two to 20 years in prison with a fine up to $10,000, a second degree felony and could be eligible for probation since she doesn't have a past criminal history.
Wesley is charged with capital murder and tampering with evidence. He now faces life in prison or the death penalty. The district attorney has not said whether they will seek the death penalty at this time. He was also indicted for injury to a child, which is punishable by five to 99 years in prison, as well as abandoning a child.
Is this average timing for the case to be heard or should this have come to criminal court faster?
Because of the complexity of the case (evidence, forensics, DNA, etc.) these announcement settings or "passes" are taking place and likely will continue for several months. This is so that all parties involved can see all the documents and evidence involved.
What exactly does a pass or announcement setting mean? What happens during these dated settings?
On an announcement setting, Sini or Wesley are not expected to physically be present or be brought over from jail. These settings are a time for the defense attorneys and the district attorney to have closed-door, informal talks to discuss the evidence gathered in these cases: autopsy reports, forensics data, DNA collected, etc.
Who determines a pass or announcement setting? Is there a limit on how many passes can occur before they have to begin hearing the case at a jury trial?
Depending on the court, there is a limit on how many passes can be made in a case. Each court has their own limit. On average a case can be passed anywhere from 10-25 times before a plea bargain hits the table or the case is taken to a jury trial. This process usually takes place over the course of several months.
The court coordinator is typically the one in charge of facilitating announcement settings.
Do the defendants have to show up every time?
No. The reason why the Mathews were present during their CPS hearing is because the court was trying to determine their parental rights through witness testimony and questioning. CPS is dictated by the family code, criminal court is dictated by the code of criminal procedure.
Are these settings open to the public like the Mathews' CPS hearing was?
No. Since these are discussions between defense attorneys and the district attorney, there is no formal setting inside a courtroom for the public to listen in on. If and when the case goes to a jury trial and unless the judge states otherwise, the public may attend then.
How will we know when the case goes to a jury trial?
If that is the case, the court coordinator will post that information on the Dallas County courts website. They will formally set a date and the process to find a jury will begin. In Wesley's case, he is charged with capital murder, a charge that requires a detailed, thorough process of jury selection.
Can Sini or Wesley still get out of jail?
Yes. During these announcement settings or passes, Sini or Wesley could still post bond. Sini is being held with a $100K bond and Wesley is being held with a $1 million bond. If either of them do, they will then be required to appear at each court announcement setting as part of the terms of their bond.
It's important to note if and when either of these cases go to a jury trial, the time that Sini and Wesley have spent in jail leading up to the jury trial can be applied to their sentencing. For example, if Sini is convicted on the child abandonment charge, the time she has already spent in jail will apply-- this is called back time.