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Trooper testifies that Crawford woman admitted to fatally poisoning son with washer fluid


A Pennsylvania State Police trooper testified Monday that a Crawford County woman accused of fatally poisoning her disabled adopted son admitted to giving him washer fluid to drink

TIM HAHN   | Erie Times-News'

TITUSVILLE — A Crawford County woman told a Pennsylvania State Police investigator that she gave her disabled 11-year-old adopted son a half-full cup of windshield washer fluid to drink because she wanted "to free him," a trooper testified on Monday.

When the investigator asked the woman what she thought would happen to the boy when he drank it, she said he "passes," Trooper Kevin Geibel said.

Mary E. Diehl's reported admission was made after more than eight hours of questioning at the Meadville state police barracks on Nov. 8, a little more than two months after her adopted son, Najir W. Diehl, died on Sept. 5, according to testimony presented at Diehl's preliminary hearing on Monday morning.

State police troopers charged Diehl with one count of criminal homicide following the interview. Titusville District Judge Amy Nicols held Diehl for court on the charge following Monday's hearing.

Diehl, who remains in the Crawford County Correctional Facility without bond, is accused of providing Najir with a "poisonous substance" that was found in his blood when toxicology testing was done following his death. The boy died at the family's home at 7621 Mallard Road in East Fairfield Township, north of Cochranton.

The death was reported to state police on the morning of Sept. 6.

Geibel, who was one of the investigators in the case, testified under questioning by Crawford County First Assistant District Attorney Paula DiGiacomo Monday that Diehl had initially told state police and a 911 dispatcher that she believed Najir died from suffocating in his bedding due to a seizure.

Crawford County's coroner initially determined that Najir died of asphyxiation due to a seizure disorder — as the boy had a history of seizures — and no autopsy was done, Geibel said. But he said Coroner Scott Schell sent Najir's blood out for testing to determine whether there were any drugs or chemicals in the boy's system.

The results of testing that Schell received on Oct. 6 showed that Najir had a lethal amount of methanol in his system, Geibel said. He said Schell then conferred with Erie County forensic pathologist Eric Vey, M.D., and more study was done. The manner of Najir's death was ultimately determined to be methanol toxicity, with a single dose occurring on the evening of Sept. 5, Geibel said.

He said Diehl spoke to investigators at the Meadville state police barracks on Nov. 8, telling troopers that Najir was never out of her sight on Sept. 5 and that the boy was unable to walk or open a container that might contain methanol.

Geibel said Diehl told investigators that such substances were kept in a tool room at their home, and that Najir did not have access to the room and would not have been able to walk to the room or open a lid.

Geibel said that later on the day of the interview, while she spoke with another investigator, Diehl stated that on Sept. 5, after they had eaten dinner, she sat Najir in the living room, went to the tool room and filled a plastic cup halfway with windshield washer fluid. She said she gave the cup to Najir, knowing that he would drink anything he was given, and he drank it immediately, Geibel testified.

State police later served a search warrant on the Mallard Road residence and found the washer fluid, but they were unable to locate the cup Diehl said she poured the fluid into and gave to Najir, Geibel said.

Diehl's lawyer, Eric Hackwelder, questioned Geibel under cross-examination about when Diehl was read her rights during the Nov. 8 interview. Geibel said Diehl was Mirandized when she was also given a form to sign to take a polygraph early that afternoon, and later signed a Miranda form near the conclusion of the interview early that evening.

Authorities have said that Najir had special needs and had an extreme history of health-related problems. Najir, who was born in Erie on June 7, 2010, lived with Diehl and another child, who is 10 years old, according to testimony at Monday's hearing.

The other child is being cared for by family, Hackwelder said.

Contact Tim Hahn at thahn@timesnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.

2021 Dec 13