South LA man potential life sentence
By City News Service
The California Supreme Court has refused to review the case of a South Los Angeles man who is serving a potential life prison term for his 4-year-old daughter’s drowning death in a walk-in bathtub.
Charles Richard Lee, now 27, was found guilty in October 2021 of one count each of second-degree murder and assault on a child causing death stemming from the Dec. 2, 2018, drowning of his daughter, Zaraellia Thompson.
In a ruling earlier this year, a three-justice panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the defense’s contention that there was insufficient evidence to support Lee’s conviction.
“Reviewing the record in the light most favorable to the prosecution, ample evidence supports a finding that Lee held Zaraellia under the water until she drowned,” the panel found in its Jan. 11 ruling.
Lee spoke to Los Angeles Police Department detectives at the hospital where his daughter was taken and then went back to the house for a videotaped “re-creation” in which he told police that he briefly left the girl to get a towel and returned to find her unresponsive in the tub.
Firefighter/paramedic Jesse Pena, who responded to a 911 call about the girl’s drowning, testified during the trial that he scooped up the girl from a dark bedroom and took her outside to a gurney, where he could see that she had “different types of wounds throughout her body.”
“They were something that was very abnormal,” Pena told jurors. “We saw the wounds. They were in different stages of healing.”
Pena testified that the girl’s father–who rode in the ambulance as she was taken to the hospital–initially said the other injuries were about two days old and then said they were about two weeks old.
The defendant’s mother testified that Lee had introduced the girl to her as his daughter that year, and that she didn’t know anything was wrong that day until she heard the sound of fire engines.
The girl–who had been dropped off a few weeks earlier at her father’s home and hadn’t lived with him for the first years of her life–died at a hospital after paramedics were summoned to the house in the 1500 block of East 42nd Street.
Lee was arrested that day and has remained behind bars since then.