Playing Foster Mom: Crackers Choked Child To Death

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Reported by Chris Tatum

February 28, 2008 / WSMV.com

McMINNVILLE, Tenn. -- A foster mother accused of killing a 6-year-old girl who was in her care told jurors her side of the story on Thursday.

Sherri Mathis took the stand in her own defense and said 6-year-old Cheyenne Delp had been sick to her stomach the day she died, so she gave her some crackers that she said choked Delp to death.

Prosecutors cited the injuries found on Delp during an autopsy in their rebuttal to Mathis’ story.

According to the 911 tape that was played in court, Mathis tried to revive Delp using CPR after she had stopped breathing.

Prosecutors said Mathis killed Delp by choking her to death.

“So, we’re not going to have a ‘Perry Mason’ moment in this courtroom where you break down on the witness stand and confess, right?” a prosecutor said.

“No, sir,” Mathis said.

Prosecutors tried to poke holes in Mathis’ testimony and argued that she sometimes withheld food from Delp and sometimes force fed her. Prosecutors also showed Mathis autopsy photos of Delp that showed severe bruises to her body.

Mathis said she didn’t have the strength to cause that type of injury.

“Do you have any explanation, Ms. Mathis, for the hemorrhages that were in her neck at autopsy?” a prosecutor said.

“No, sir; none,” she said.

Mathis admitted to whipping Delp on some occasions.

“I did whip her, sir,” she told prosecutors.

“And what do you mean by whipping?” he said.

“Two or three smacks on the bottom, sir,” she said.

Attorneys on both side said they hope to wrap closing arguments on Friday and hope the judge is able to hand the case to the jury on Monday.

Delp’s two brothers also lived with Mathis. Delp’s biological parents and grandparents were present in court on Thursday. Delp's parents were going to jail due to drug problems and had asked Mathis to take care of them so they wouldn't be turned over to the state.

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Verdict: Guilty

According to a small post found at at USA Today

A jury found a former day care owner in this East Tennessee city guilty of first-degree murder in the death of a 6-year-old girl and the abuse of her two older brothers. The jury recommended a life sentence for Sherri Mathis, 41, in the death of Cheyenne Delp in 2004. Defense attorneys argued unsuccessfully that Delp's prescription medication caused her to have a fatal heart attack.

According to the January 7, 2009 edition of The Southern Standard (Tenn.),

Circuit Court Judge Bart Stanley left intact the two life sentences handed to Mathis last year while reducing her 22-year sentence to 20 years for her longtime abuse of Delp,and her 10-year sentence for abusing Delp’s older brothers to eight years. In effect, the ruling reduces her jail time to life plus 28 years, meaning she will still have to serve over 80 years before first chance of parole.

More disturbing, however, is the type of care Cheyenne received from the psychiatrist she and Mathis visited, as described in the article,  "Psychiatrist testifies he prescribed three drugs at first session"

Dr. Mudumbi said Cheyenne had 13 visits to his office, the first on April 3, 2003, and the last on May 21, 2004, roughly one month before she died.

After her initial visit, Cheyenne was given three types of medication: Strattera (to control attention deficit disorder), Risperdal (to treatschizophrenia or severe depression), and Imipramine (to treat severe depression).

After two weeks, on April 17, 2003, Dr. Mudumbi said he took Cheyenne off Strattera at the request of Mathis. He testified Mathis wasn't satisfied with its effectiveness.

So Dr. Mudumbi replaced Strattera with Tenex, the brand name for Guanfacine. He also doubled Cheyenne's dose of Imipramine to 50 mg daily.

About three weeks later, on May 8, 2003, Dr. Mudumbi said Mathis still wasn't satisfied with the medication. That's when he added Seroquel to the mix.

Along with Benadryl, which had already been prescribed to help with side effects of the other medicines, Cheyenne was taking five prescriptions daily in May 2003. At that time, she was 5 years old.

Special prosecutor Brian Holmgren questioned Dr. Mudumbi about all the medication. Dr. Mudumbi said he wouldn't have prescribed so much without the input from Mathis.

"I still would have prescribed the Tenex, but nothing else," Dr. Mudumbi said.

If the doctor did not feel like the child required so many medications, why were they still prescribed?

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