COLUMBUS, Ohio — A man who didn’t report his toddler daughter’s death for about a month before a cable company worker found her decomposed body in a crib at their apartment was sentenced July 8 to three years in prison after being convicted on charges including corpse abuse.
Eric Warfel also had an infant daughter die in 2013 in what was ruled a “sudden unexplained infant death,” and prosecutors argued that he didn’t report the death of his 21-month-old daughter, Ember, in Medina last summer because he didn’t want an autopsy to be performed.
But in letters asking the judge for leniency, his relatives and friends described Warfel as a gentle, protective father who was devastated after losing one daughter and made poor choices because he just couldn’t cope when it happened again.
Warfel had moved to a motel with his surviving daughter, now 8, and investigators found cocaine in their room after arresting him at a mall near Cleveland once Ember’s body was found.
Medical examiners couldn’t determine a cause of death because of decomposition but did find traces of cocaine in her hair samples. Warfel’s attorney has said the girl was born with severe medical problems.
Authorities initially alleged that trash in the girl’s room was meant to hide the smell, but Warfel’s attorney said that wasn’t true and Warfel denied trying to cover up the body.
Warfel, 35, was convicted on charges including tampering with evidence and drug abuse. His sentence was less than what prosecutors sought.
Defense attorney Michael O’Shea, who expects to appeal, said in many ways the case was based on first impressions.
“We believe that the way the prosecutor decided to prosecute the case is like putting a square peg in a round hole,” O’Shea said. “We just don’t believe that the facts fit the theory of law that the state of Ohio postulated.”
A report from a psychologist who evaluated Warfel last August said he recounted how he’d tried to revive Erin, the first daughter he lost, and indicated that he regretted describing Erin’s death to his eldest daughter as God having taken her sister.
When Warfel found Ember dead, he didn’t know how he would tell his remaining daughter and others, “so he left to try to come to terms with the situation, but the longer he delayed, the more immobilized he became,” the psychologist wrote.
He had signs of depression and cocaine addiction and attributed his actions to “being unable to face again dealing with all that occurs when a youngster dies,” the psychologist said.
In letters to the judge, supporters recalled seeing Warfel trying to be supportive to his family despite his devastation about Erin’s death.
“To find Ember must have felt like the world imploding, again,” one friend wrote.
Supporters said Warfel had made questionable choices — in marrying and then divorcing the girls’ mother, who they said had addiction and other troubles, and then in his own drug use and in not reporting Ember’s death — but they urged the judge to order treatment and therapy instead of prison. His lawyer noted he had no criminal history.
Warfel initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity but was found competent to stand trial and was convicted on charges including child endangering. He didn’t testify.