A prosecutor told jurors Wednesday that a 4-year-old girl who drowned in a walk-in bathtub at her father’s South Los Angeles home had suffered other recent injuries, including burn marks, while the man’s attorney countered that authorities had no way to prove that the girl’s death was not accidental.
Charles Richard Lee, now 26, is charged with murder and assault on a child causing death involving the Dec. 2, 2018, drowning of his daughter, Zaraellia Thompson.
The girl — who had been dropped off a few weeks earlier at her father’s home — died at a hospital after paramedics were summoned to the house in the 1500 block of East 42nd Street. The Los Angeles County coroner’s office subsequently classified the girl’s death as a homicide.
“Not much about what happened to Zaraellia makes any sense. She was 4 years old when she was dropped off in the care of her father …” Deputy District Attorney Colby Cano told the downtown Los Angeles jury hearing the case against Lee.
The girl — who had met her father before but hadn’t lived with him for the first years of her life — was dead about three weeks later, Cano told the jury in his opening statement.
The prosecutor showed jurors a photo of the girl after her death, saying that she had “scalding injuries that are days to weeks old” and marks, abrasions and scratches, and that her blood was found in the bathroom and near a space heater in the bedroom she had been sharing with her father.
Lee’s attorney, Michael Many, told the panel that Lee subsequently told police that what had happened to the girl was “an accident.”
The defense lawyer said there is “no way of proving” that the girl was intentionally drowned, while acknowledging that Lee’s daughter had suffered other earlier injuries that were not life-threatening.
Jurors will be asked to consider “some significant legal issues,” Lee’s attorney said.
Lee spoke to Los Angeles Police Department detectives at the hospital and then went back to the house for a videotaped “re-creation” in which he told police that he briefly left the girl to get a towel and returned to find her unresponsive in the tub.
Firefighter/paramedic Jesse Pena, who responded to a 911 call about the girl’s drowning, testified that he scooped the girl up from the dark bedroom and took her outside to a gurney, where he could see that she had “different types of wounds throughout her body.”
“They were something that was very abnormal,” Pena told jurors. “We saw the wounds. They were in different stages of healing.”
He said the girl’s father — who rode in the ambulance as she was taken to the hospital — initially said the other injuries were about two days old and then said they were about two weeks old. The man explained that the girl had been to the beach with her mother and might have gotten an infection from the sand or water, and that she liked to sit next to a heater and could have burned herself, but that he didn’t know how she had drowned, according to the prosecution’s first witness.
The defendant’s mother testified that Lee had introduced the girl to her as his daughter that year, and that she didn’t know anything was wrong that day until she heard the sound of fire engines.
Lee, who was 23 at the time, was arrested that day by detectives from the LAPD’s Juvenile Division and has remained behind bars since then.
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