Levelland mother accepts life sentence in toddler's death

A Hockley County woman was sentenced Thursday to life in prison after she admitted to her role in the death of her 2-year-old son, and physically abusing her other son 3 years ago.

Samantha Dawn Mathis, 29, appeared before 286th Distrcit Judge J. Pat Phelan in Hockley County and pleaded guilty to a count of murder of a child younger than 10 years old, a first-degree felony, which carries a punishment of five years to life in prison. She is also ordered to pay a $10,000 fine.

She will have to serve 30 years of her sentence before she will be eligible for parole on the murder charge.

Mathis was initially indicted on a count of capital murder, which carries a punishment of life without parole or the death penalty. But, she pleaded guilty on Thursday to the lesser included charge of murder.

She also pleaded guilty to a count of Injury to a Child in exchange for a 10 years prison sentence. She will have to serve half of her sentence in this case before she is eligble for parole.

However, Mathis will only begin serving her sentence on the second charge after she finishes or is paroled on the murder charge.

"The sentencing underscores the gravity of these crimes and sends a clear message that such actions will not be tolerated," said Hockley County District Attorney Angela L. Overman in a statement.

Mathis' attorney, Chris Wanner, described the case as a tough one.

"Becasuse of the law of parties in the State of Texas, this was a good outcome for Samantha," he said.

Mathis, who has been in custody since Feb. 4, 2020, was one of two people facing charges stemming from a Levelland police investigation.

Her boyfriend at the time, 33-year-old Robert Garza Jr., also faces count of capital murder and injury to child. He is set to go to trial on Feb. 18, 2024 and remains held at the Hockley County jail. His bond is set at $554,000, according to jail records.

The charges against the couple stem from Levelland child's death

The two are accused of intentionally or knowingly causing the death of the Mathis’ son, Elijah Lebario, by striking him with a hand, foot, belt or unknown object, or by causing the boy to strike a floor, wall, toilet, tub sink or unknown object, or by shaking him, according to an indictment.

They also face a separate charge of injury to a child with intent, causing bodily injury, in connection with injuries found on the toddler’s 4-year-old brother during the homicide investigation.

Levelland police arrested Mathis on Feb. 4, 2020, after her son was taken to Levelland Covenant Hospital. The boy was unresponsive, suffered bruising to most of his body, and had an internal temperature of 81-degrees, according to a Levelland police news release.

Hospital staff called police within three minutes of the boy’s arrival after finding injuries on him that they believed stemmed from physical abuse.

The boy was taken to University Medical Center in Lubbock, where he died in an operating room, the release stated.

Police investigators interviewed Mathis and the other family members, and reportedly learned that Mathis and Garza assaulted the boy, the release states.

The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services was called to help with the investigation and CPS workers learned that the boy’s then 4-year-old brother was also physically abused.

Levelland police Chief Albert Garcia said the boy spoke with a forensic interviewer, and revealed he suffered injuries from alleged physical abuse.

"The successful resolutions in these cases serve as a testament to the relentless pursuit of justice by our legal team," Overman said in the statement. "We extend our gratitude to the community for their unwavering support throughout these proceedings, and we shall continue to fulfill our duty in safeguarding the interests of our fellow citizens."

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Levelland mother accepts life sentence in toddler's death