A Pekin woman who was charged with murder following the death of a 2-year-old child in her care in September 2021 will serve 45 years in prison, said Washington County Prosecutor Tara Coats Hunt.
Sarah M. Bierly, 32, East Poplar St., was sentenced Thursday morning in Washington Circuit Court.
Her sentence will be fully executed in the Indiana Department of Corrections with no time suspended.
In addition, she is deemed a violent predator and will be required to register as such for life.
Bierly had earlier entered a plea agreement.
“This case involved a completely innocent and defenseless toddler – a little girl who will never get to grow up because of the actions of her caregiver,” said Prosecutor Hunt. “Child abuse is a horrific crime and in this case, a child paid the ultimate price for it. As Prosecutor of this county, it is my top priority to protect our most vulnerable members of the community.”
Circuit Court Judge Larry Medlock addressed Bierly at sentencing, telling her, “Your actions changed the course of so many lives. Baby M will not get to grow and experience the things she should get to experience,” he said, noting that crimes committed against children are the most heinous.
Prosecutor Hunt credited law enforcement for excellent work. “I want to thank Detective Travis Baker of the Indiana State Police and Detective Brad Naugle of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for their good investigative work which led us to this murder conviction and justice for Baby M,” she said.
When first responders arrived at the home on Sept. 14, 2021, they found an unresponsive 2-year-old. The girl was transported by ambulance to St. Vincent Hospital in Salem where she was pronounced dead.
The child had been placed at the residence a month earlier by the Department of Child Services to live on a trial basis with her father, Simon A. McDowell, and his girlfriend, Bierly.
According to the probable cause affidavit, the 911 call regarding the toddler was not placed by either McDowell or Bierly, but by a family member of Bierly’s whom she had called for help.
After McDowell left for work around 1:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, Bierly was the caregiver for the child. She told police the little girl was difficult to care for because she wouldn’t do as she was told.
Bierly’s version of events changed during interviews with detectives regarding the girl’s death.
Initially, she said the girl had hurt herself during a diaper change. Bierly said the child hit the side of her face on a plastic tote. Bierly said after the girl’s diaper was changed, she wouldn’t go to bed.
Bierly said the child scratched her face so she “back-handed” her across the face. She then said the little girl threw herself backward, striking the back of her head on the carpeted floor.
Bierly said she listened to the child’s heart and said it was “fluttering a little.” She said she put the child to bed and when she checked on her a few minutes later, her lips were blue.
An autopsy found the child died from multiple blunt force injuries and determined the manner of death to be homicide. Following the autopsy, police interviewed Bierly again.
This time, Bierly said she had been in the kitchen with the child and was holding her up in front of her by her hips when the child scratched her in the face. Bierly said she then forcefully threw the toddler onto the hard kitchen floor.
The little girl appeared to be unconscious. Bierly said she performed CPR but did not call 911, explaining she was afraid McDowell would be mad at her and feared it would further complicate their custodial situation with the child.
“The family member who immediately called 911 after arriving at the home and seeing the little girl did what any responsible adult would do in that situation,” said Prosecutor Hunt. “I want to remind people that anyone who has reason to suspect child neglect or abuse is required by law to make a report. The hotline number is 1-800-800-5556 and callers may remain anonymous.”