This Week, Tarrant County Filed Murder Charges in Two Decades-Old Child Abuse Cases

Teena Mathis has always said it was an accident. She had left her 15-month-old niece, Heidi, with her children on a backyard swingset while she stepped inside to answer the phone. While she was in the house, the girl wandered behind the swing, which hit her in the head. Heidi died two days later.

Her family believed her story. Fort Worth police and the medical examiner did not. Officers noticed bruises on the toddler's face and body that didn't look like they'd come from a fall. The ME ruled the death a homicide.

But no charges were ever filed. Mathis was allowed to return home. She raised her family. She moved to Springtown and had grandchildren. And then on Wednesday, nearly 31 years after Heidi died, Price was arrested and charged with murder. The Star-Telegram's Deanna Boyd has the details.

It's a strange scenario. There's been no new witness who's come forward, no DNA sample that finally gets tested. The evidence seems to have been there all along. It just took three decades to file charges.

Mathis' case is not unique. Matter of fact, hers isn't even the first such case to emerge from Fort Worth this week. Boyd reported Tuesday on Patricia Ann Jones, a 56-year-old arrested on murder charges in the 1986 death of her nephew, 19-year-old John P. Jones.

Jones and her husband were babysitting John on the morning of September 4, 1986 when he reportedly began convulsing and lost conciousness, according to the Star-Telegram. They took him to John Peter Smith Hospital where he fell into a coma and died five days later.

Jones said the boy had been playing when he bounced off a bed and onto a hardwood floor, but detectives thought he'd been beaten. Jones and her husband were both arrested at the time, but neither was charged. Until now.

The Tarrant County DA's office says it does not comment on open criminal cases and declined to comment. We have a call in to Sergeant Cheryl Johnson, a Fort Worth homicide detective, who told the Star-Telegram that she wasn't sure why charges were never previously filed in Jones' case. The case had been filed away and forgotten until a cold case detective found it and reopened the investigation.

Is this a sign that Fort Worth PD is combing through its cold case files more aggressively than in the past? Evidence that Tarrant County prosecutors were soft on child abuse cases in the 1980s? Hard to tell from the outside. It could always just be a coincidence.

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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson