LANCASTER – Two-year-old Zanai Noel received forceful blows to her back and side, and she died shortly thereafter from multiple internal injuries, including five broken and displaced ribs, a collapsed lung, a shredded liver and internal bleeding, Dr. Louis Pena testified Wednesday.
The medical examiner’s testimony came at the preliminary court hearing for Matthew Worthen, the 24-year-old man accused of beating to death his girlfriend’s baby.
Worthen is charged with murder in connection with an incident that occurred Sept. 22, 2013 at his girlfriend’s Palmdale apartment, according to prosecutors.
Ayisha Noel testified that she left her daughter alone with Worthen for less than 15 minutes that night, while she went to the liquor store to purchase more Hennessy.
Worthen was coming out of her baby’s room when she returned from the store, Noel testified, and minutes later, Zanai was groaning and gasping for air.
The two then took Zanai to Palmdale Regional Medical Center, Noel testified.
“She was blue when she came in,” said the emergency room doctor, Romik Zadorian.
Zanai was pronounced dead after 45 minutes of CPR failed to revive her, according to Dr. Zadorian’s testimony.
Worthen’s private defense lawyer, Dakar Diourbel, argued that Zanai’s injuries could have been inflicted at day care.
Three days before her death, Zanai came home from day care with welt marks, according to her mother’s testimony.
Noel testified that she had confronted day care workers about her child’s injuries, and she was told that the person responsible would be fired. Asked why she did not report the incident to police, Noel said, “because I figured the person that did that would be handled.”
Verleana Huey, whose brother co-owns the day care, testified that she did not witness any physical abuse of Zanai while the child was at the day care.
However, Huey said she witnessed a troubling incident last summer, when Worthen dropped Zanai to day care.
“I heard the baby screaming and crying before I’d even opened the door,” Huey testified. She said Zanai wouldn’t stop crying, even after Worthen left.
“I said ‘Zanai, who hurt you?’ and she said ‘Matthew,’” Huey testified.
Worthen was also accused that summer of hurting Zanai’s mother. He was arrested for domestic violence in July 2013, and Noel had filed a restraining order against him, homicide detectives said previously.
Noel testified Wednesday that Worthen had moved out of her apartment about two months prior to Zanai’s death. But on September 22, she invited Worthen over because she was still trying to maintain a relationship with him, Noel testified.
“I was ashamed that I was still with Matthew,” Noel said, when asked why she did not tell her family the two were still together.
There is ample evidence of Zanai’s fatal injuries, but no proof that Worthen was the one that caused them, Diourbel said, in arguing a motion to dismiss the charges.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Christopher Estes denied the motion, and Worthen was held to answer on one count each of murder and assault on a child causing death. If convicted as charged, Worthen faces a maximum sentence of life in state prison. Worthen is due back in an Antelope Valley courtroom March 5 for a second arraignment.
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