Mom expected to plead guilty in baby’s DeKalb hot-car death

Mom expected to plead guilty in baby’s DeKalb hot-car death

The case against Dijanelle Fowler, the young mother accused of leaving her baby to die in a hot car during a hair appointment, could end Wednesday.

At 9 a.m., Fowler, 25, is expected to enter “a non-negotiated guilty plea” in the death of 1-year-old Skylar Fowler, the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office confirmed Monday. Authorities say the child died in the summer heat outside a Lavista Road hair salon last June 15, after nearly six hours alone.

A DA’s office spokeswoman declined to reveal details of the plea.

The baby’s father, Louis Williams, a 26-year-old Air Force reservist, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he learned about the plea Monday. He said the lead prosecutor told him to expect a sentence of 13 years in prison, followed by seven on parole. 

“I don’t think that’s just,” he said. “I am not OK with what they’re about to give her.”

He thinks a longer sentence would send a stronger message that Georgia won’t tolerate children dying in hot cars.

Fowler would be only the latest parent to get prison time in Georgia for the death of a child in a hot car, a phenomenon that claims the lives of dozens of American children each year. Famously, Ross Harris was found guilty of murder in the 2014 death of his 22-month-old son.

One key difference in Skylar’s case is that police have said from the beginning they believe her death was an accident. How the mother came to make such a grievous mistake might never be clear, police have said.

Williams was deployed in the Middle East when he got the call about his child dying. He and Fowler had split up months earlier, but he kept in touch with Skylar over the phone.

In the days after Fowler was charged with second-degree murder, Williams said he’d decided to had to forgive Fowler. That didn’t mean he didn’t think she needed to be punished.

The possible sentence feels like a “slap on the wrist,” he said. Second-degree murder carries a penalty of between 1 and 30 years in prison.

The mother also faces charges of child cruelty and concealing a death. It isn't yet clear which charges will be involved in the plea.

The DA's office didn't respond to follow-up questions.

Fowler’s attorney, Charles Brant, couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday, but he’s previously defended her by pointing out that she left the air conditioning running in the car. The car apparently died at some point, allowing the AC to click off and the heat to come for Skylar.

Testing showed the temperature in the car rose to 129 degrees, the heat index more than 150, prosecutor Dalia Racine has said.

“No rush,” Fowler told the hairdresser, according to Racine. “Take your time.”

When she walked outside, the mother found the car dead, her daughter either also dead or fading fast.

In other news:

The case dates back to 2014 in DeKalb County.

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