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Pennsylvania mom convicted of strangling 11-year-old son, now faces life sentence

Feb 15, 2024, 11:07 AM

HORSHAM, Pa. (AP) — A mother who strangled her 11-year-old son at their Pennsylvania home last year and then went to New Jersey where she drove her SUV into the ocean has been convicted of murder.

Ruth DiRienzo-Whitehead, 51, of Horsham, faces a mandatory life term when she’s sentenced Friday. She was found guilty Thursday following a bench trial.

DiRienzo-Whitehead’s lawyers argued she strangled her son, Matthew Whitehead, with a belt on April 10 because she was having a psychotic break due to financial concerns and family issues, and felt she was sparing her son a painful life. A defense expert testified DiRienzo-Whitehead was suffering from depression and mental illness at the time.

Montgomery County prosecutors argued the killing was premeditated, saying she had made numerous online searches on how to strangle someone and did research on mental illnesses that lead women to kill their own children. They also said DiRienzo-Whitehead blamed her husband for the family’s financial issues and was motivated to kill by a mix of anger and revenge.

After killing her son, DiRienzo-Whitehead drove to Cape May, New Jersey, where her SUV was found partially submerged in the ocean. She was later found walking in nearby Wildwood Crest, where she was taken into custody.

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Pennsylvania mom convicted of strangling 11-year-old son, now faces life sentence