North East mom accused of near-fatal neglect of infant son sentenced to state prison term

  • In US
  • 2022-01-21 18:21:47Z
  • By Erie Times News

A North East woman accused of severely injuring her infant son in early 2019 by failing to provide enough nutrition and by not taking him to the doctor regularly told an Erie County judge on Friday that she misses the now 3-year-old boy, who was adopted by another family.

But Nicole L. Howser said she understands "it's the best thing for him."

The adopted mother told Judge John J. Mead moments later that the boy has brain damage, but still wakes up every day as a fighter and with a smile on his face.

"Someday he may know that his own mother nearly killed him," Mead said as he sentenced Howser, 27, on Friday morning to serve 4½ to 10 years in prison for her crimes.

Mead sentenced Howser in the high end of the standard range on first-degree felony counts of endangering the welfare of children and aggravated assault that Howser pleaded guilty to in October. Three other charges that the Pennsylvania State Police filed against her in July 2019 in a joint investigation with the North East Police Department were dropped under the plea agreement.

North East mom accused of child neglect: Authorities charge that a borough woman failed to adequately care for her infant son

Howser, who had remained free on unsecured bond since her arraignment in July 2019, could have faced a maximum sentence of 40 years in prison if the sentences on the felonies, which each carry a 20-year maximum, ran consecutively. But prosecutors agreed under the plea deal that Howser should serve the sentences concurrently.

The plea deal included no recommended sentence, Erie County District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz and Howser's lawyer, Bruce Sandmeyer, said in October.

Mead sentenced Howser to concurrent sentences of 4½ to 10 years on each of the felony charges. He also ordered her to serve three years of probation and to perform 100 hours of community service.

"You chose not to protect your own baby. I don't know why," Mead said.

The crime

Emergency responders who were called to a North East residence on the early morning of Jan. 12, 2019, found the then-2-month-old boy unresponsive and gray in color, investigators wrote in the affidavit of probable cause filed with Howser's criminal complaint.

The boy was taken to UPMC Hamot and was diagnosed with acute sepsis, metabolic acidosis, elevated liver function and hypothermia. He was then was flown to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Medical reports stated the boy was "markedly emaciated," with very little muscle mass. He had a diagnosis of severe failure to thrive, sepsis, acute kidney injury, severe acidosis, extensive cortical edema encephalitis, E. coli infection and seizures, investigators wrote in the affidavit.

Woman held for court in neglect case: A physician at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC testified on Tuesday that a

A physician at Children's Hospital testified during Howser's preliminary hearing in September 2019 that, at the time the boy arrived at the hospital, his weight had increased by only 7 ounces since his birth in November 2018. A child is expected to gain about 45 ounces in two months, Jennifer Wolford, D.O., testified.

"He was so tiny, so emaciated, this little guy almost died," she said at the hearing.

Wolford testified that while the boy was at the hospital he was gaining about 2½ ounces daily, which she said "is an indication he simply was hungry." He gained 24 ounces while at Children's Hospital, and medical records showed that he gained an additional 13 ounces between his discharge on Jan. 26, 2019, and March 3, 2019, according to the affidavit.

The boy returned to UPMC Hamot on March 3, 2019, for vomiting, diarrhea and decreased weight gain and stayed there for seven days. He was diagnosed with failure to thrive and rotavirus, investigators wrote in the affidavit.

The boy returned to UPMC Hamot on April 5, 2019, after being placed with foster parents through the Erie County Office of Children and Youth and temporarily placed in the care of his biological father. He was admitted to Children's Hospital the next day, and was found that he had subdural hematomas, or bleeding around the brain.

Wolford testified at the October 2019 preliminary hearing that the hematomas were determined to have been caused by atrophy of the boy's brain because of his earlier afflictions and not caused by trauma.

North East mom pleads in neglect case: Mother pleads guilty to felonies for failing to care for emaciated infant son in North East

Also testifying at the preliminary hearing was state police Trooper Susan Edelmann, who filed the charges in the case. She said that Howser stated during an interview in June 2019 that she thought she had taken her son to three doctor visits after his birth. But medical records and information from OCY indicated that Howser took her son to his one-week appointment but did not show up for two later appointments, according to the testimony.

Edelmann also testified that the boy was taken for doctor visits in late January 2019 and twice the following month after his initial stay at Children's Hospital.

The sentencing

Sandmeyer, Howser's lawyer, asked Mead on Friday morning to consider giving Howser a restrictive intermediate punishment sentence. He said his client took responsibility for her actions by entering a plea in the case, and she also voluntarily terminated her parental rights to the boy.

Howser is raising another child, according to testimony in court Friday.

Sandmeyer pointed out that there were never any allegations of physical violence, and he told Mead that Howser is in counseling.

He said Howser told him she had a lot of time to reflect, and was trying to figure out what she could have done or should have done for the boy.

Hirz, in her remarks to Mead, said the boy has suffered greatly because of his mother, and that every day she chose to fail that child.

"What she could have done? She could have fed him," Hirz said.

Hirz said in arguing for an aggravated range sentence that she could not comprehend that Howser should be given credit because she didn't shake or otherwise physically assault the boy.

"She starved this baby," she said.

Contact Tim Hahn at Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: Child abuse: North East woman accused of neglecting baby gets prison term


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