South L.A. father convicted of drowning 4-year-old daughter

Chris Ryan/Getty Images
Photo credit Chris Ryan/Getty Images

A South Los Angeles man was convicted Wednesday of second-degree murder and assault in connection with the drowning death of his four-year-old daughter.

Charles Richard Lee, 26, faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison.

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Lee was arrested in 2018 after his daughter, Zaraellia Thompson, reportedly drowned in a home bathtub. She had come to live with her father for the first time in her life just a few weeks prior.

Lee later told police he had been giving the four-year-old a bath, left the bathroom momentarily to retrieve a towel, and returned to find her unresponsive in the tub.

A paramedic who responded to the 911 call to Lee’s home testified at trial that Thompson bore “different types of wounds throughout her body” inconsistent with drowning.

“There was something very abnormal,” the paramedic said. “We saw the wounds. They were in different stages of healing.”

First responders said Lee, who rode in the ambulance that took his daughter to the hospital, conveyed conflicting information to paramedics about the cause and timing of the injuries. According to witnesses, he initially said the wounds were two days old, then later said they were about two weeks old.

Lee reportedly told paramedics Thompson had visited the beach with her mother before she drowned and might have contracted an infection from the sand or water. He also claimed she liked to sit by a household heater and might have burned herself.

Thompson later died while being treated at County-USC Medical Center. The L.A. County coroner’s office subsequently ruled the death as a homicide.

Prosecutors asserted it was “reasonable to think” Zaraellia had not drowned accidentally, citing the severity of her injuries, which included scald marks on her skin.

Evidence of those injuries were sufficient to persuade a jury that Lee had not only abused his daughter for at least several weeks prior to her death, but allegedly “snapped” and drowned the girl while bathing her.