San Jose

6-Week-Old Abused Baby Dies in San Jose, Father Charged With Murder

This is not the first time Matthew Zabala has been accused of harming one of his three children.

A father with a past conviction for child abuse on his 4-year-old daughter was charged with murder on Friday after his six-week-old baby girl died earlier in the day.

Matthew Zabala, 32, who listed his job as a manager of a gas station in Cupertino several years ago, was taken into custody on Tuesday, after the Santa Clara County's Office said the baby was violently beaten three days before. Sgt. James Jensen said the baby died on Friday at 12:54 a.m.

Zabala was booked into Santa Clara County Main Jail and bail has been set at $1 million. Prosecutors, who are calling the infant "Baby Mila," had requested no bail be set for Zabala.

Deputies responded to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose shortly before 3:30 p.m. Tuesday on a report of possible child abuse, Jensen said. Investigators learned that the girl was taken by ambulance to the medical center on Sunday for a life-threatening condition, Jensen said. Once the baby reached the hospital, doctors saw she was suffering from cardiac arrest and many broken bones.

"Doctors conducted X-rays," Jensen said. "They learned there was 14 different fractures throughout her body, including her skull."

That discovery prompted detectives to descend on a home in the first block of Boston Avenue north of West San Carlos Street in unincorporated San Jose, where they interviewed the child's biological parents and collected evidence, Jensen said. Zabala, who listed on Facebook that he attended Gilroy High School, posted a happy picture on July 7 at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose of a pregnant woman. "We are here, ready to meet our little girl," his post said. Other posts show him on what appear to be family vacations with two other young children. Police reports indicate he also has a daughter and a son.

Zabala was convicted of abusing his older daughter.

Court records show that Zabala was charged in 2009 with two counts of child abuse on his 4-year-old daughter in December 2008 after Santa Clara County social worker Bruce Fitts alerted police about some bruises, records show. The couple had been living in Sunnyvale at the time. Zabala told his girlfriend that their daughter fell off the bed, but a pediatrician later found her injuries to be "inconsistent" with Zabala's story, court records show.

Zabala had told police that the girl had cried "bloody murder" after she fell off the bed. Her crying caused his 10-month-old son to cry too, Zabala told police.

A CAT-scan revealed cranial bleeding and bruising in several parts of her body, but the girl was released from the hospital the next day.

At the time, the girlfriend, a legal secretary in Palo Alto, said she had no reason to believe Zabala would have hurt their daughter, and told authorities he yelled at the children sometimes, but would never inflict corporal punishment. She told police that she had never personally "observed Zabala in a violent manner."

But in a separate Sunnyvale Department of Safety report, the family doctor told police that the girlfriend told him "she had a suspicion" that her daughter may have been "physically abused." 

The girlfriend also told police that Zabala had been dating another woman younger than 18, when they got together, who reported that Zabala hit her once during a fight, the Sunnyvale police report shows.

Police noted at the time that the 4-year-old appeared happy and well-behaved, police wrote, while also observing Zabala kiss his daughter, prompting her to "bounce up and down in happiness." The girl also told police that she fell out of the bed, and the social worker ultimately recommended the girl stay with her parents and "did not believe there was an immediate need to remove the children from the house."

A check with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said that Zabala has never been in the state prison system, at least under his current name or birth date provided.

Despite being sentenced to a four-year prison sentence, which the Mercury News reported, Jensen said that Zabala served his sentence in county jail. That discrepancy was not immediately explained.

The Sheriff's Office and the Valley Medical Foundation are raising funds for the baby's funeral. Anything extra will be donated to the VMC Foundation to benefit the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit. To make a donation, click here.

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