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9th District upholds father’s convictions in baby’s death

Legal News Reporter

Published: July 31, 2017

The evidence was sufficient to convict a Medina man for failing to report his infant daughter’s death and properly handle her remains, the 9th District Court of Appeals recently ruled.

Eric M. Warfel appealed convictions of gross abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence after a bench trial in Medina County Common Pleas Court.

According to case summary, the crimes came to light after a cable installer went to Warfel’s apartment on July 29, 2015 to update equipment and discovered nobody was home.

The installer got a key to Warfel’s unit from the apartment complex’s office. Once inside the garbage-strewn apartment, the cable company employee saw the badly-decomposed body of Warfel’s 20-month-old daughter, E.W., in a crib.

The cable installer then exited the unit and reported his discovery.

After Medina city police also found cocaine and drug paraphernalia at the scene, officers tracked Warfel and his 7-year-old daughter down in Westlake, where he was taken into custody.

The appellant and his surviving daughter had been staying at a motel in Middleburg Heights. After searching that room, police found more cocaine.

Warfel initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but later stipulated to reports finding him competent and sane.

Warfel was found guilty on all seven counts, including child endangering and drug offenses.

Multiple state witnesses testified they were unable to determine the baby’s age, gender or race, or a cause, location or time of death due to the extreme state of the body’s decomposition.

Medina Police Detective Sarah Lynn testified Warfel told her he last saw E.W. alive at 10 p.m. on June 18, 2015 – nearly six weeks after she was found. He claimed he attempted rescue breaths, but she was already dead, so he put her back in the crib with a crucifix next to her body.

He admitted he was addicted to cocaine at the time of her death.

Lynn told the trial court judge that Warfel claimed he failed to report the girl’s death because he wasn’t able to tell his ex-wife and parents – especially since he had another infant daughter who passed away unexpectedly in 2013. In addition, he was afraid of losing custody of his 7-year-old daughter.

“… Warfel admitted that he felt like he was doing something wrong by not reporting his daughter’s death,” 9th District Judge Julie A. Schafer wrote in her opinion.

Warfel argued that the state failed to show that he treated E.W.’s corpse in a manner that would outrage reasonable community sensibilities in violation of R.C. 2927.01(B).

“We reject Warfel’s argument,” Judge Schafer stated. “… The statute does not require that the corpse be physically abused.”

The panel also found the evidence was sufficient to convict Warfel of tampering with evidence in violation of R.C. 2921.12(A)(1).

“Warfel argues on appeal that he did not actually `conceal’ E.W.’s body, but rather left it unexposed in a crib for nearly six weeks,” Judge Schafer wrote. “However, the evidence at trial, which we must construe in favor of the State, indicates that in addition to leaving E.W.’s body in the crib, Warfel closed the bedroom door, placed boxes in front of the door to prevent entry, and consistently lied to family members and friends in order to make it appear as though E.W. were still alive.”

Ninth District judges Donna Carr and Thomas Teodosio concurred.

The case is cited State v. Warfel, 2017-Ohio-5766.