A South Los Angeles man on trial for his 4-year-old daughter’s drowning in a walk-in bathtub was convicted Wednesday of second-degree murder and assault on a child causing death.
Jurors deliberated about three hours before convicting Charles Richard Lee, now 26, in the Dec. 2, 2018, drowning of his daughter, Zaraellia Thompson.
Sentencing was set for Nov. 9, and Lee faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.
Deputy District Attorney Colby Cano told the downtown Los Angeles jury that the evidence against Lee was “overwhelming.”
The prosecutor questioned whether it was “reasonable to think that Zaraellia died drowned accidentally” and not as a result of Lee’s conduct, given a series of fresh injuries and injuries, including scalding injuries, that Cano had described earlier as “days to weeks old.”
Lee’s attorney, Michael Many, countered that the girl died as the result of a “terrible accident.”
“There’s nothing to suggest he snapped,” the defense lawyer told jurors in urging them to “follow the law.”
The girl — who had been dropped off a few weeks earlier at her father’s home and hadn’t lived with him for the first years of her life — 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.
Lee spoke to Los Angeles Police Department detectives at the hospital where his daughter was taken 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 during the trial 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.”
Pena 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.