PALMDALE – A 23-year-old man accused of beating to death his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter in Palmdale last week has been charged with murder, authorities said.
Matthew Albert Worthen was charged Monday with one count each of murder and assault on a child causing death for the fatal beating of baby Zanai, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office.
The alleged fatal beating occurred on Sunday, Sept. 22 at the couple’s Palmdale apartment in the 200 Block of Avenue R, according to detective Q. Rodriguez of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.
The child’s mother told detectives she left Zanai alone with Worthen for a few minutes while she went to the store, Rodriguez said.
“She returns six to seven minutes later and her baby is gasping for air, is groaning as though she was in some sort of shock,” Rodriguez said.
He said baby Zanai was “near death” when Worthen and the child’s mother brought her to Palmdale Regional Medical Center around 9:25 p.m.
“She had severe internal injuries consistent with hard blows to the back causing rib fractures, hemorrhages, a collapsed lung, internal bleeding and a pulverized liver,” Rodriguez said.
Baby Zanai died about an hour later, Rodriguez said.
Worthen was arrested Thursday, after a coroner’s autopsy report confirmed Zanai’s cause of death.
“The coroner said he’s only seen injuries like this in high speed traffic accidents, so you can imagine,” Rodriguez said.
The child’s mother has not been arrested or charged in the incident so far. Zanai’s biological father, Robert Skinner, said both mother and boyfriend should be implicated in his daughter’s death.
“I want him buried under the prison and I think she should be right there with him,” Skinner said.
Skinner said he has barely slept since the incident. He says he found out about his daughter’s death via Instagram, when a friend posted his daughter’s photo with the caption “RIP” on the night of Sept. 22. Skinner said he began frantically calling his child’s maternal relatives until someone told him to go to Palmdale Regional, where doctors confirmed his worst fears.
“I’m devastated behind this, my whole family is devastated behind this,” Skinner said. “I understand now why half the time she would not let me have my daughter, because she knew my daughter was going to tell me that something was going on.”
Friends of the couple said Worthen had abused his girlfriend on several occasions, and baby Zanai was terrified of Worthen. They said Worthen had beaten his girlfriend so severely in July that she had to be hospitalized, and Worthen was jailed on domestic violence charges.
Rodriguez confirmed that Worthen was arrested for a domestic violence incident in July 2013, and that his girlfriend had filed a restraining order against him.
“There was a restraining order, a keep away order, however we believe it expired and we’re looking into that,” Rodriguez said, adding that Worthen had been fired from his job as an Emergency Medical Technician over “domestic violence issues.”
Skinner said he was in disbelief that his daughter was left alone in Worthen’s care.
“How could you leave our daughter with a man who, mind you, has already put his hands on you up and down? Then you have to get a restraining order against him and you’re still dealing with him? That’s crazy!” Skinner said.
Worthen was expected to be arraigned on the murder charge Monday afternoon at the Antelope Valley courthouse. He made his first court appearance, but did not enter a plea. Instead, the case was continued until October 16, and Worthen was remanded back to custody on $1 million bail.
If convicted as charged, Worthen faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison. The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
UPDATED 10/16/13: Matthew Worthen was scheduled to be arraigned today at the Antelope Valley courthouse, however, the arraignment was delayed until December 4, according to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office. We will continue to follow this story.
UPDATED 12/4/13: Matthew Worthen appeared in an Antelope Valley courtroom today, but his arraignment was postponed again — this time until Dec. 17. We will continue to follow this story.
UPDATED 12/17/13: Matthew Worthen pleaded not guilty to the charges today. Read more here.