PALMDALE – A 24-year-old Palmdale man was sentenced Monday to 15 years to life in state prison for killing his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.
Zanai Noel passed away on Sept. 22, 2013, after she was left for a short time in the care of her mother’s boyfriend, Matthew Worthen. Worthen was arrested for murder days later after an autopsy revealed Zanai’s cause of death. At a preliminary court hearing this past February, Ayisha Noel testified that she left her daughter alone with Worthen at her Palmdale apartment for less than 15 minutes while she went to the liquor store.
Noel said when she returned from the store Worthen was coming out of her daughter’s room, and minutes later, Zanai was groaning and gasping for air.
The child died from forceful blows to her back and side, which caused multiple internal injuries, including five broken and displaced ribs, a collapsed lung, a shredded liver and internal bleeding, according to court testimony from County Medical Examiner Dr. Louis Pena.
Worthen had a domestic violence history with Zanai’s mother. He was arrested for allegedly choking the child’s mother about two months prior to Zanai’s death.
Still, Worthen maintained his innocence for nearly a year before pleading no contest to killing Zanai. Just days before Worthen entered the plea, his attorney Dakar Diourbel said he would be calling three defense witnesses during trial who would testify that Zanai’s mother was drinking and acting aggressive on the night of her daughter’s death. At the pretrial hearing, the defense attorney also said that Ayisha Noel had attacked Worthen in the incident that triggered Worthen’s domestic violence arrest.
Worthen ultimately avoided a jury trial by pleading no contest Aug. 20 to second degree murder in connection with Zanai’s death. He made the plea just before jury selection was set to begin.
In addition to the 15-years-to-life state prison term, Worthen must pay restitution in the following amounts: $11,285 for funeral expenses to the victim compensation and government claims board; $3,722.90 for out of pocket funeral expenses to the victim’s mother; and $8,894.49 for mental health/burial fees to the victim’s great grandfather, according to the District Attorney’s office.
Previous related stories: