WASHINGTON, PA (WTRF) — A Canonsburg couple charged with poisoning their infant baby, in a fentanyl death in August has the Washington County District Attorney Jason Walsh pursuing the death penalty, according to a report by the Observer-Reporter.
During the formal arraignment Tuesday for James May IV and Shannon McKnight, Walsh stated his decision. The 3-month-old girl, Navaeah, had been sleeping in bed at the time of the homicide while the couple was inside their Canonsburg home.
Walsh explained that Navaeah suffered fentanyl toxicity allegedly by her parents, but more surprising was that Navaeah’s 16-month-old brother also had fentanyl in his system, but survived. The presence of the drugs in their system since they are children under the age of 12, caused Walsh to alert the court of his intention to seek the death penalty for the parents.
A 911 call was made by May and McKnight the night of August 11 from their First Street home, when they found Navaeah unresponsive. Navaeah was taken to Canonsburg Hospital and died from the fentanyl toxicity.
The 16-month-old toddler, who is identified as K.M. in the court documents, tested positive also and was taken to UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh for treatment.
The cause of how the children ingested the powerful drugs is still being investigated by authorities, but they did find empty stamp bags and paraphernalia inside the bedroom that the family was sleeping.
The couple had disappeared for a week, and in doing so missed their daughter’s funeral, and was located on August 19 in the attic of a Canton Township home.
On May 31, McKnight was charged with homicide, child endangerment, reckless endangerment, possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. The assigned official, District Judge James Saieva Jr. ordered them to stand trial after their preliminary hearing , which was scheduled for September 30. The couple is now at Washington County jail where they are being held without bond and await their trial.
Walsh is seeking the death penalty on nine different defendants in six other cases, three of which involve the deaths of children. Walsh was quoted by reporters that he has been consistent about pursing the death penalty and believes the highest punishment in Ohio law must be used in child death cases.
Rose Semple, the court-appointed attorney for McKnight, believes differently. Semple was quoted stating that anyone familiar with the situation wouldn’t believe that the child’s death was caused intentionally. Semple shares that due to this, it would be illegal to order the death penalty for the parents.
Semple defends not only her client, but the tax paying citizen of Washington County, as they will have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to ensure her client’s rights with extensive work ahead for her.
Patrick Fitch, the public defender for May, couldn’t be reached for comment.
The formal arraignment for May and McKnight was held in Washington County Court before Judge Valarie Costanzo.