MEADVILLE — Mary E. Diehl, the Crawford County woman charged with giving her 11-year-old adopted son with special needs a fatal dose of windshield washer fluid to drink in September 2021, declined to address the court on Wednesday as she awaited sentencing.
Diehl, 64, had pleaded no contest on Friday, without admitting guilt, to third-degree murder in the death of Najir W. Diehl, whose death authorities determined was caused by a lethal dose of methanol consumed on Sept. 5, 2021, a day before Diehl reported the boy’s passing.
Diehl’s decision to stay silent on Wednesday, when Crawford County Judge Mark Stevens sentenced her to serve 10 to 20 years in prison on the charge, eliminated any possibility of getting a more clear picture of why Diehl filled a cup with lions and bears on it half-full with washer fluid and gave it to Najir to drink, an act Pennsylvania State Police investigators said Diehl admitted to two months after the boy’s death.
More:State police charge Crawford County woman in poisoning death of 11-year-old adopted son
The only information presented publicly as to a motive in the case came from the statements of state police investigator who testified at Diehl’s preliminary hearing in December 2021. He said Diehl said she gave Najir the fluid to drink because she wanted to “free him,” and when the trooper asked her what would happen if the boy drank it she replied, he “passes,” according to the testimony.
Lawyers on both sides of the case also did not address a possible motive as they spoke at the sentencing Wednesday.
Crawford County District Attorney Paula DiGiacomo, who prosecuted the case, credited the efforts of state police, Crawford County Coroner Scott Schell and Erie County Forensic Pathologist Eric Vey, M.D., for their efforts in determining the true cause of Najir’s death after it was initially thought that the boy had accidentally suffocated.
If not for those efforts, DiGiacomo said, it would never have been known that Diehl poisoned Najir and caused his death.
Prosecutors had asked Stevens to consider sentencing Diehl to 10 to 20 years on the third-degree murder charge. Diehl’s lawyer, Eric Hackwelder, had asked the judge to consider sentencing Diehl to six to 12 years.
Stevens noted in his comments that the court had received well over 100 letters from family members and others in support of Diehl. Hackwelder provided the court on Wednesday with three additional letters he said were from Diehl’s fellow inmates while she was in prison, in which the writers talked about Diehl’s kindness, helpfulness and support.
Hackwelder called the case a tragic one, and he noted that everyone in the courtroom, including several dozen who attended the hearing in support of Diehl, had been touched by it.
More:Crawford woman pleads no-contest to 3rd-degree murder in adopted son’s poisoning
The Pennsylvania State Police charged Diehl with criminal homicide on Nov. 8, 2021, a little more than two months after emergency responders called to the family’s home at 7621 Mallard Road in East Fairfield Township found Najir dead in bed.
According to investigators, Diehl initially stated to state police and a 911 dispatcher that she believed Najir, who had special needs and a history of health-related issues, had a seizure and suffocated in his bedding. A state police investigator testified at Diehl’s preliminary hearing in December 2021 that the boy’s death was initially determined to have been from asphyxiation due to a seizure disorder, as Najir had a history of seizures.
But toxicology testing done as part of the death investigation found a lethal amount of methanol in Najir’s system, and after further study, the death was ultimately determined to be methanol toxicity, with a single dose occurring on the evening of Sept. 5, the investigator testified.
More:Trooper testifies that Crawford woman admitted to fatally poisoning son with washer fluid
According to the state police investigator’s testimony, Diehl stated during a Nov. 8, 2021, interview that Najir was never out of her sight on Sept. 5, and he was unable to walk or open a container that might contain methanol. She said such substances were kept in a tool room at the home, and that Najir did not have access to the room.
Later on the day of that interview, the investigator said, Diehl told another investigator that after the family ate dinner on Sept. 5, she sat Najir in the living room, filled a plastic cup halfway with windshield washer fluid from the tool room and gave the cup to the boy, knowing that he would drink anything he was given.
Najir was born in Erie on June 7, 2010. His biological mother, who lived in Erie, died in 2012.
The boy’s biological father, Chester Carr, and other members of Carr’s family have said that they had been trying for years to gain custody of Najir.
Carr, in a statement to the Erie Times-News, said it was frustrating and devastating that his child was taken from him twice: First at birth, and now at Najir’s death.
“I am at a loss for words over this tragedy. I am also hurt that (Najir) won’t get the chance to know just how much he was loved,” Carr said in his statement.
Contact Tim Hahn at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.
This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Crawford woman sentenced to 10 to 20 years in adopted son’s poisoning