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Couple charged in brutal death of newborn faces additional child abuse charges

Additional charges include physical abuse and exposing the surviving children to uncaged boa constrictors, pythons, large lizards and alligators kept in their Missouri home.
Additional charges include physical abuse and exposing the surviving children to uncaged boa constrictors, pythons, large lizards and alligators kept in their Missouri home.
Richmond Police Department

Two parents from Richmond, Missouri, were charged in court on July 23 with the abusive death of their three-week-old daughter, Aprhil. By July 24, additional charges of neglect and abuse were levied against parents Rebecca and Dennis Matthews regarding their three other children, ages two, four and six. And those charges include exposing the kids to uncaged snakes, lizards and alligators kept in the couple’s Richmond garage.

Regarding the brutal death of their three-week-old daughter, The Richmond News reported that the Matthews were represented in court on Wednesday by separate attorneys. Rebecca, 24, and Dennis, 25, were each charged with Felony Abuse of a Child – Resulting in Death. If found guilty on those charges, they would each face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Both pleaded not guilty to their charges. The Matthews claim that they weren’t responsible for the injuries that led to Aprhil’s death, and in fact tried to pin the blame on their two-and-four-year-old children.

Police in Richmond were called to the Matthews’ home on Aug. 18, 2012 and found Aprhil unresponsive. The three-week-old girl was pronounced dead at the scene. The baby girl’s autopsy revealed that she “had fractured ribs in various states of healing at the time of her death, and that she died from blunt force trauma to the chest with internal bleeding,” according to KSHB in Kansas City.

"It seemed like a brutal death and just sad, a horrible event and horrible way for a child to die," Richmond Police Chief Chad Burnine said. "There was suspicion there originally, and once we got the autopsy results back and confirmed there was blunt force trauma, that really expedited the investigation and got things rolling."

Initially, the Matthews denied ever hurting Aprhil and told police they didn’t know how their newborn child sustained her injuries. But when the Matthews learned about Aprhil’s impending autopsy, they quickly changed their stories.

During the course of the police investigation, the father told police that he thought that his two-year-old son could have pulled the baby girl from her basinet, which could explain Aprhil’s broken ribs. The father also told police that his four-year-old child actually killed Aprhil by climbing into her crib and then falling on top of her. The father also said that the four year old must have then crawled out of the baby’s crib and back to his own bed, unnoticed by the parents. According to the probable cause statements, "while they were both home from 10:30 p.m. Aug. 17 to 9 a.m. Aug. 18, Aprhil was not fed, changed or checked on from when she was put to bed that evening to when she was found dead the next morning."

The Matthews have also been charged with child abuse and neglect in connection with their other three young children. Turns out the couple had been keeping swimming pools in their garage where they provided homes for some exotic reptiles. Court documents state that the Matthews exposed their children to “boa constrictors, pythons, large lizards and alligators that were not safely caged," according to KCTV5.

The Matthews were both charged with child neglect for exposing their kids to those retiles. Additional child abuse charges include “allegedly breaking the arm of their 1-year-old and hitting their 5-year-old on the back until the child bruised.”

Both of the Matthews are incarcerated at Ray County Jail, with each being held on a $500,000 cash bond. The three Matthews’ children “are in the custody of the Division of Family Services, reportedly living with a relative.”

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