Crime

32 years later, grandmother gets probation in niece’s death

A 55-year-old Springtown grandmother was sentenced Monday to 10 years of probation after pleading guilty to murder in the fatal beating of her 15-month-old niece more than 32 years ago.

Teena J. Mathis accepted the plea offer made by prosecutors Monday in a case that her defense attorney called “a tragic event all the way around.”

“I think basically Ms. Mathis has been on probation for some 30 years, which is the basis for the plea,” attorney Jim Lane said. “She’s lived an exemplary life all this time.”

Mathis’ arrest in April 2013 in connection with the death of Heidi Page shocked Heidi’s mother, Jolene Price.

Price previously told the Star-Telegram that she had always believed — and still did — that her daughter’s death was nothing more than a tragic accident.

Heidi was fatally injured July 15, 1982, at Mathis’ home in Fort Worth.

Mathis told Heidi’s mother that the kids were playing on the swings when she went inside to answer the phone. She told Price that Heidi had apparently walked behind the swing set and was hit in the head.

Though the Tarrant County medical examiner ruled Heidi’s death a homicide by blunt-force trauma, no arrest was made in the case for reasons that are still unclear.

In April 2013, after the cold case was reopened and reinvestigated, Mathis was arrested on a murder warrant.

Fort Worth police pointed to numerous bruises on Heidi’s face and body that officers saw the day she was hospitalized. They said the injuries were not consistent with Mathis’ explanation to police that the girl had fallen.

She was indicted in July 2013, accused of striking Heidi with her hands and with or against a hard object.

Price did not return a message seeking comment Monday.

She told the Star-Telegram previously that she intended to fight on behalf of Mathis, her sister-in-law.

“If I thought it was a homicide, it would be different. I don't believe that it was,” she said.

Price said she was a single mother living in Utah when she left her daughter in the care of her brother and his wife in Fort Worth while she prepared to move to Texas. During that time, she said, her daughter was critically injured in what relatives described as an accident.

Heidi died two days after being injured, her mother at her bedside.

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