March 17, 2017
A Maryland court has sentenced an Iranian-American woman to the astounding term of 50 years in prison for poisoning her young son, putting him in her car and setting the vehicle on fire.
Five-year-old Daniel Dana, a kindergartner, died June 16, 2015, after prosecutors said his mother, Narges Shafeirad, 35, forced him to drink a full bottle of medicine. She then locked his body inside her car and set it ablaze in Gaithersburg, Maryland, a distant suburb of Washington, DC.
Shafeirad pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder. She was formally sentenced last month to life in prison with all but 50 years suspended, a sentence negotiated in exchange for her guilty plea.
A Montgomery County fire and rescue crew initially thought they were responding to the scene of a car crash, when they found the car engulfed in flames about 3:30 a.m.
Shafeirad was found face down outside the car, screaming. As first responders began extinguishing the flames, they saw Daniel lying on the floorboard in the back seat. They tried to get into the car to save him, but the doors were locked, police said.
Investigators believe Daniel had died before the fire began.
Shafeirad was taken to a hospital with second- and third-degree burns on 40 percent of her body. She initially lied about what happened, saying she gave Daniel medicine because he had a fever, prosecutors said.
Investigators determined Shafeirad gave the child the antihistamine diphenhydramine, which is the active ingredient in Benadryl, in an amount more than 2 1/2 times the requirement to kill an adult, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors believe Daniel fought for his life. He was found with cuts and bruises on his head and mouth.
Shafeirad and her husband, Hamid Azimi-Dana, 51, who is 16 years older than his wife, were due in court for a child custody hearing on the day she killed Daniel. She had also just been told she was being evicted from her apartment.
“She could not handle her life and couldn’t take care of the child and did not want to give the child to the father and his new girlfriend,” Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Marybeth Ayres said at a news conference last year.
In the two years since the murder, Shafeirad has never publicly said why she did it. She finally spoke at the sentencing. “I was a broken woman,” she said, adding that her son meant everything to her. “I am still not able to believe that I have lost my son.”
Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Nelson Rupp said, “A mother murdering her child is a crime so horrific that it is natural to try to determine why. After reading a psychological evaluation of Shafeirad and hearing her speak, he said, “The only thing that I can conclude is that it was a determination made by the defendant for reasons only she knows of.”
Rupp noted that Shafeirad showed very little emotion in court, even as Daniel’s father and grandparents broke down. “No visible indication of any reaction whatsoever,” Rupp said.
Earlier in the hearing, prosecutors said Shafeirad force-fed the boy doses every two to four hours until he was dead. He probably experienced blurry vision, confusion, vomiting and possible seizures.
“I think there’s the impression, especially in this case, ‘Well, at least he wasn’t burned to death and he was poisoned to death’,” Assistant State’s Attorney Marybeth Ayres said. “Well, no, it’s not some peaceful thing where you just fall asleep…. Even to an adult, these things would be extremely scary.”
Shafeirad placed Daniel’s body in the back seat of her Toyota Corolla, drove to a gas station where she filled a gallon-water bottle with gasoline and later drove off the side of a road in Gaithersburg, doused the interior of the car with the gas and ignited the interior. She told detectives that she and Daniel had been on their way to the beach and that she had gasoline with her as a precaution in case she could not find an open gas station. As she was driving, she claimed, she lit a cigarette and the car caught on fire.
A bright, curious boy who was taking guitar and karate classes, Daniel was an only child. The couple had met in Iran and married in Tehran in 2007, according to court records. Daniel was born in 2009, and by 2011 all three were living in Gaith-ersburg.
But two years later, the couple separated and went through a bitter divorce, previous court filings show. Joint custody was worked out, with Daniel staying with his mother four days a week and his father three days a week, according to court documents. But the acrimony grew.
At one point, according to documents, Shafeirad told her husband: “I will make you cry. You will be sorry.”
Prosecutors picked up on statements such as that, saying Shafeirad was motivated by jealousy over a nanny her husband had hired, and by her own financial insecurities.
“The defendant has demonstrated that she is willing to do whatever it takes, including murder her own son, in order to find peace in her own life,” prosecutors Ayres and Steve Chaikin wrote in court papers.
One of Shafeirad’s attorneys, Melanie Creedon, said the custody battle had left Shafeirad suffering from anxiety and a sense of “impending doom.” Shafeirad lost her job caring for an elderly Iranian, and found out she was about to be evicted. “This was an act of a helpless and hopeless, broken woman who had basically reached the end, and who saw no way out,” Creedon said.
Daniel’s father addressed the judge Monday and tried to collect himself several times. He told the judge the last words he spoke to Daniel, when he was dropping him off at his mother’s and was worried about problems his son was having with her. “I told him, ‘Please be strong’,” he said in court, his voice trembling. “He said: ‘Daddy, I’m strong. You be strong’.”
In March 2014, Shafeirad formally filed for divorce, claiming that her husband of six years physically abused, belittled and acted cruelly toward her on a regular basis.
The husband described his spouse as physically and mentally abusive, and claimed that her behavior caused both him and son Daniel to fear for their safety.
The Washington Post reported that throughout the bitter proceedings, one opinion was shared by both sides: what kind of child Daniel was. “He was angelical,” said David Gavin, an attorney for Daniel’s father. “Inquisitive, kind. He couldn’t have been a nicer child.”
Both parents were born in Iran, Gavin said. He said Azimi-Dana immigrated to the United States and eventually ran a business in Maryland that supplied produce to Middle Eastern restaurants and stores. At some point, while Shafeirad was living in Iran and despite the 16-year difference in ages, family members arranged for the two to meet, Gavin said.
The couple married in Tehran December 17, 2007, according to court records. She continued to live there for a while, while Azimi-Dana traveled back and forth to the US, according to the records.