Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2023

Supreme Court upholds conviction in child’s death


CARSON CITY -- The Nevada Supreme Court Thursday upheld the first-degree murder conviction of Brandon Parish, accused of crushing the skull of a 20-month old girl in April 1997.

The court rejected Parish's arguments that he was entitled to a third trial in the death of Samantha Mathiasen, the daughter of the girlfriend of Parish, who at the time was an airman stationed at Nellis Air Force Base.

The case involved at least two incidents in which the mother, Dawn Mathiasen, lied to protect Parish.

He had initially been found guilty of first-degree murder but the Supreme Court overturned the conviction because of an improper jury instruction. In May 2003, he was convicted again of first-degree murder by child abuse and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

Parish and Mathiasen started dating in March 1997. She sometimes left her daughter alone with Parish, and though she noticed bruises on the girl afterwards, Mathiasennever reported them to police.

After one injury, the hospital reported the suspected abuse to Henderson Police. Mathiasen lied and said Parish had never been alone with her daughter. Regardless, police told Dawn not to leave her child alone with the man.

Mathiasen on April 19, 1997, took Samantha to visit Parish at Nellis. He asked her to pick up some food and she left Samantha alone with Parish. Several airmen in an adjoining room heard lashing and screaming and investigated. They offered to take the child to the hospital but the mother refused.

The mother took Samantha home but the child started having seizures and was taken to the emergency room, where she died without regaining consciousness.

Dawn initially told police that she had been alone with the child and that the girl had fallen out of bed. But she changed her story after being told she could be charged with murder.

James Swift, a pediatric intensive care physician, testified at trial that Samantha suffered a displaced skull fracture and pieces of her skull had been forced into her brain, causing brain swelling. He said the severity of the injury was the same as a fall from three to five stories.

The mother was convicted of child abuse and neglect with substantial bodily harm and was sentenced to 15 years in prison with parole eligibility after six years.

Parish received a second trial and was convicted. His defense was that the mother killed her daughter. In his appeal, Parish claimed that his testimony at his first trial should not have been admitted at the second trial. His prior testimony placed Parish at the scene of the crime alone with Samantha.

The Supreme Court said "Prior testimony, if otherwise admissible, may be used against the defendant even if he refuses to testify at retrial."

The court rejected claims by Parish that there were improper jury instructions. He also argued there should have been a mistrial after two state witnesses referred to Parish's first trial. The court also dismissed that argument.

The court said, "In this case, Samantha suffered at least four separate incidences of child abuse, all of which involved major bruising and or bone fractures."

The court further state that the state presented 27 witnesses to support the prosecution's case that the child had no signs of physical abuse before the mother started dating Parish.