Jury recommends 25-year sentence for Arlington mom in toddler's death
FORT WORTH -- A Tarrant County jury recommended Thursday that an Arlington woman go to prison for 25 years for leaving her 17-month-old son in a hot car for hours, causing a fatal heatstroke.
It is the longest sentence ever returned by a Texas jury in a crime of this type, according to KidsAndCars.org, a national organization that collects data on child deaths in vehicles.
Because the defendant, Keashia Matthews, 38, was not in court when the jury returned its decision, state District Judge Mike Thomas could not formally sentence her.
Matthews had been taken to a hospital about 10:45 a.m. Thursday complaining of stomach pains, shortness of breath and dizziness, said her attorney, Robin McCarty.
Matthews was released after treatment, a spokeswoman for Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth said. She was booked into the Tarrant County Jail on Thursday afternoon and remained in jail Friday, a jail staff member said.
She had been free on bail since her arrest.
Matthews is expected to return to court sometime next week to hear the jury's decision and Thomas' ruling.
Matthews, who was initially charged with murder, pleaded guilty Monday to a charge of injury to a child in the death of her son, Darrell Singleton III.
She left the child unattended for at least seven hours in an SUV on Sept. 3, 2009, while she was at a temporary job in Bedford.
The high that day was 96. According to testimony this week, Darrell's body temperature reached 107 degrees before he died.
A history with CPS
McCarty said Matthews will have to serve at least half of her sentence before she is eligible for parole.
The maximum sentence on the injury-to-a-child charge is life in prison, but prosecutors asked jurors to sentence her to 40 years.
Matthews was also eligible for probation, which is what McCarty asked for.
"Relative to what the state asked for, we feel that this is a victory to a degree," McCarty said.
"We would have preferred much less time or the opportunity for probation. It's a very tragic event, and there are victims on both sides of the table.
"I don't believe that Keashia Matthews was a bad person. She made some very bad choices."
Darrell, known as Trey, was Matthews' fifth child by five men. Child Protective Services removed three of her daughters from Matthews' custody, and she gave up a fourth for adoption.
Her mother, who lives in Detroit, has custody of the two oldest girls; a family friend adopted the two younger daughters after Darrell's death.
"I would anticipate probably the thing that was most damaging was the CPS contacts with regard to the other children and the pattern of her behavior," McCarty said.
This week, a former caseworker with Child Protective Services testified about visiting Matthews' residence in May 2009. Matthews was not home, but one of her daughters, then 6, was there alone.
The caseworker, Jennifer Hawn, testified that she waited more than an hour before leaving.
A few days later, Hawn said, she went back and had Matthews sign a pledge never to leave her daughter alone again.
Hawn testified that her supervisor told her that parents may leave children that age alone during daylight hours as long as they are not supervising younger siblings.
Then the supervisor closed the case, Hawn said.
"I found out about Trey's death from my supervisor," Hawn said. "I was very upset. I thought I was not doing my job. After that, I left CPS."
A CPS spokeswoman said in an interview that the state has not set an age limit for when children may be left alone.
A finding of parental neglect involves several factors, including the maturity of the child, the home itself and the length of time the child is left alone, the spokeswoman said.
'This is very dangerous'
In 2010, Texas led the nation in heatstroke deaths of children left in vehicles, with 13 of the 49 fatalities reported, said Janette Fennell, president of KidsAndCars.org.
But cases similar to Matthews' -- in which an adult knowingly leaves a child in a hot car -- account for less than 10 percent of the incidents reviewed by her organization, Fennell said.
Most heatstroke deaths involve distracted or forgetful adults who didn't intend to leave the child, Fennell said.
Another category is cases where a child, unbeknownst to adults, gets into a vehicle and can't get out, she said.
"The education campaign can't come soon enough," she said. "We want parents to know this is very dangerous. You just don't leave your child in a car alone."
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752