Mother is charged with killing boy, 6 — (The Boston Globe)

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The Boston Globe

Arrest is climax of 4-day mystery

By Maria Cramer and Travis Andersen

Globe Staff / May 19, 2011

CONCORD — A Texas woman taken into custody earlier yesterday in Chelmsford was arrested late last night on charges that she suffocated her 6-year-old son. The arrest came four days after the child was found dead on a Maine back road in an episode that shocked the region.

Julianne McCrery, 42, of Irving was charged with second-degree murder in the death of her son, Camden Pierce Hughes, Attorney General Michael A. Delaney of New Hampshire said in a statement.

McCrery was also charged with being a fugitive from justice and is scheduled to be arraigned today in Concord District Court in Massachusetts, according to Delaney.

He said Maine’s chief medical examiner has determined the cause of death to be asphyxiation, but said the final determination is pending further study.

Delaney said McCrery killed her son Saturday in Hampton, N.H., hours before his body was discovered on a dirt road in South Berwick, Maine.

New Hampshire State Police were reportedly investigating a hotel room in Hampton yesterday where McCrery is believed to have stayed, possibly with her son.

For days, the identity of the boy remained a mystery, confounding police and riveting New England.

Yesterday, just after 10 a.m., investigators began to get some answers. Someone at a highway rest stop in Chelmsford spotted a woman in a pickup truck matching the description of the vehicle seen leaving the Maine road just before the body’s discovery. Massachusetts State Police responded and took McCrery into custody.

Relatives described McCrery as a troubled woman who had struggled with depression and had once attempted suicide. They described her child as a bright, blue-eyed boy who loved to read and never knew who his father was.

“She loved that little boy,’’ McCrery’s mother, LuRae McCrery, said by phone from her Nebraska home. “Juli and Cam were so close. Her whole life was raising her son. That’s why I just can’t make sense of this.’’

After being taken into custody yesterday morning, McCrery was kept at State Police headquarters in Concord for most of the day, said David Procopio, spokesman for the Massachusetts State Police.

Late in the afternoon, McCrery walked out the back of the brick building, dressed in what looked like pajama bottoms and flanked by paramedics, who escorted her to Emerson Hospital for medical issues Procopio said were not urgent.

State Police in Maine had received more than 100 tips and assigned a dozen officers since Saturday, when a couple found the boy’s body, covered by a blanket, in a remote wooded section of South Berwick.

The discovery horrified and saddened residents of this town of about 7,000 on the New Hampshire border and bewildered police, who called on the public to help identify a blue Toyota Tacoma pickup seen on the road before the boy’s body was found.

The truck had some type of naval insignia, according to Maine State Police, who enlisted the help of the US Navy in the case.

Stephen Scipione, 45, of Leominster, spotted Julianne McCrery’s car in Chelmsford
McCrery is also the mother of a 23-year-old man, Ian, who is in the Navy and stationed on the USS Oak Hill in Norfolk, Va., according to McCrery’s former boyfriend, Robert Miller, who spoke by telephone yesterday.

McCrery made a living by delivering car parts for a company based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Miller said that when he last spoke with McCrery Tuesday, she did not mention that she was in New England. She said nothing about Camden or that anything was wrong, Miller said.

“I asked her if they were coming back [to my place], and she said she didn’t know,’’ Miller said. “I just assumed she was at work.’’

But LuRae McCrery said that Miller later called the company and learned that Julianne McCrery had been fired about a month ago. She had been pretending to go to work, LuRae McCrery said.

“I think she got to the end of her rope,’’ McCrery said.

Miller said that the mother and child had recently been suffering from a serious cough and that McCrery sounded ill on the phone.

McCrery’s mother said her daughter had also complained that the two were ill, but in their phone conversations she made it sound as if she were still in Texas.

“We’ve been talking every day,’’ she said. “I have no idea why she went to Maine. I don’t think she knew anyone in that part of the country. I don’t have a clue.’’

Miller, 49, who lives in Irving, said McCrery and her younger son moved in with him about two years ago. But McCrery would often leave for stretches of time after they would argue, Miller said.

She left for the last time a couple of months ago, but remained in the area. They had stayed in touch and talked about reconciling, Miller said.

“I’m the only daddy [Camden] has ever had,’’ Miller said. “Her and I and [Camden] had a very strong faith in Christ. That’s why I know he’s in a better place, and I’m glad he’s there.’’

He said that the three of them regularly attended First Baptist Church Irving and that McCrery was baptized there about two years ago.

McCrery doted on her child, Miller said, reading to him and encouraging him to excel in school.

The boy had been placed in the gifted and talented program in his kindergarten class at W.T. Hanes Elementary School in Irving, Miller said.

Several short videos McCrery posted show images of her young son straddling a tricycle or toddling around his room, a lollipop stuck to his blond hair.

In one video, Miller is seen pushing Camden as he tries to pedal his tricycle. His mother giggles from behind the camera.

“I’m doing it!’’ he shouts.

If McCrery had anything to do with the boy’s death, Miller said, it was an accident.

“She wasn’t capable of hurting him in any way whatsoever,’’ he said.

But McCrery had struggled with substance abuse and alcohol and had tried to kill herself before Camden was born, Miller said.

“She has been known to have bouts of depression,’’ LuRae McCrery said. “But she is very good at hiding it.’’

McCrery was arrested in 2003 on a prostitution charge and in 2004 for possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute, according to Dallas County court records. In both cases, the charges were dismissed after she completed probationary programs, records show.

McCrery self-published a book through a Canadian publisher titled, “Good Night, Sleep Tight: How to Fall Asleep and Go Back to Sleep when You Wake Up,’’ about a year ago.

A short biography for the book says McCrery was born in San Jose, Calif., in 1969 and moved to Dallas in the early 1980s.

“Driving a school bus and then somehow graduating to a cement mixer certainly gave her character beyond her years and a definite need for a good night’s sleep!’’ the biography says.

McCrery did not know who Camden’s father was, her mother said. She had been married but divorced almost a decade ago.

The family is grief-stricken over Camden’s death, LuRae McCrery said.

“He could read as well as any second-grader,’’ she said, her voice wavering with emotion. “Just a sweet little boy.’’

Prosecutors will begin extradition procedures to New Hampshire, a process McCrery can fight, Procopio said.

In South Berwick, residents, many of them crying and clutching their children, left toy cars, baseballs, and stuffed animals at a growing makeshift memorial at the scene.

“My heart goes out to that little boy,’’ said Desiree Mix, 22, as she walked with her 1-year-old son along Main Street.

“I just wish I had known that family and could have taken him in, knowing the circumstances,’’ Mix said. ’’There’s a lot of people that want kids and can’t have kids.

“It’s too bad somebody had to go to that measure and do something like that.’’

Peter Schworm, John M. Guilfoil and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com; Andersen at tandersen@globe.com.

 

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Chilling Murder Details Revealed as Julianne McCrery Pleads Guilty — (Hampton Patch)

Texas woman smothered her son with a pillow.

UPDATE, 10:30 a.m., 11:24 a.m.: Julianne McCrery was speechless Friday morning moments after a Rockingham Superior Court judge finalized the Texas woman’s guilty plea to one count of second-degree murder for killing her 6-year-old son earlier this year.

McCrery, whose hair was cut just above shoulder length Friday, looked around the court and made eye contact with a few of her family members for no more than five to 10 seconds before she was escorted out of the courtroom after the 46-minute plea hearing.

McCrery said little and shed no tears during the court appearance, although she did admit her guilt after Judge Tina Nadeau asked McCrery if she understood her rights, the terms of her plea and if McCrery is “pleading guilty because [she] is in fact guilty?”

“Yes, m’am,” McCrery replied to the question.

McCrery didn’t look at Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell as Morrell outlined publicly for the first time some of the details of Saturday, May 14 — the day on which McCrery “smothered” her son, Camden Hughes, at the in Hampton.

Among those details was the fact that McCrery traveled from Texas to Maine because it was the only place where she could obtain castor beans, a type of seed that contains ricin, a fatal poison which McCrery allegedly wanted to use to kill herself.

Morrell said McCrery had tried killing herself using the beans before Hughes was born. She said McCrery told police that her intention was to try to use the beans again after killing her son, which Morrell said McCrery said she wanted to do because she didn’t think he could be raised well without her.

“She said no one else in her family was fit to raise him if she was dead, and she didn’t want him raised by social services,” Morrell told the court Friday.

Morrell said McCrery purchased the beans in Maine on May 12 before spending May 13 at Hampton Beach with her son.

Later that day, Morrell said McCrery checked into the Stone Gable Inn with Hughes, and she later gave her son Nyquil because, according to Morrell, McCrery “didn’t want him to be lucid” when she smothered him in the early morning hours of May 14.

Morrell said McCrery waited for Hughes to fall asleep, at which point she “lifted her son and placed him face-down” on a pile of pillows she had constructed. Morrell said McCrery then “laid on top of him, applying pressure to his body, and put her hand over his mouth.”

“She smothered him with his face in the pillow,” said Morrell. “She stated [to police that] her son struggled by flailing his arms and kicking his legs for three to four minutes before becoming limp.”

McCrery then wrapped her son’s body in a dark green blanket and placed him in the back of her truck, choosing to do so in the early morning because McCrery told police she didn’t “want anyone to see or hear [them] in the daylight,” according to Morrell.

McCrery then drove along Route 4, eventually crossing into Maine. Morrell said McCrery thought she was still in New Hampshire when she drove down Dennett Road in South Berwick, Maine, to a secluded portion of the dirt road, and left his body in the woods, 32 feet from the edge of the roadway.

Morrell said McCrery “placed him in an area where she didn’t think he’d be discovered.”

Hughes’ body was discovered on the same day by Manly Grove, a Dennett Road resident who lived in close proximity to the site, and his family after first noticing McCrery’s truck, and later finding Hughes’ body. More details of that discovery are available .

During Hughes’ autopsy, Morrell said a medical examiner for the state of Maine found “long hairs” on Hughes’ jacket, his tan pants, underwear and “tangled among the twigs” near the body.

Those hairs were collected as evidence, and DNA testing later revealed the hairs belonged to McCrery, said Morrell.

Morrell said the medical examiner also noted several injuries to Hughes during the autopsy, including petechiae across his face, around his eyelids and within his eyelids, which Morrell said indicated the manner of death was “some type of asphyxiation.”

The cause of death was officially ruled as “mechanical asphyxiation,” during which Morrell said pressure outside the body prevents breathing. She said the autopsy revealed McCrery had been “laying on top of him while smothering him.”

“[The autopsy] also revealed that he suffered and struggled for several minutes before death, and that [McCrery] was definitely aware of the struggle,” said Morrell.

Morrell said in court she that doubted McCrery’s murder-suicide theory, alluding to the fact that her decision to use castor beans — a previously unsuccessful suicide method — “may indicate she did not want to kill herself,” as could the superficial cut police found under a bandage on her wrist after she was taken into custody at a .

McCrery didn’t reply to this statement in court, although she answered simply “Yes” to a variety of questions posed by Nadeau after Morrell finished presenting her evidence, which would have been shown at trial without the plea arrangement.

Among those questions included acknowledgements that McCrery’s plea deal, which makes her eligible for parole after no fewer than 45 years, prevents McCrery from filing an appeal.

McCrery was asked if she was seeing a doctor, and if she has been diagnosed with a mental illness. McCrery told Nadeau “No” to the former question, while she replied “Not specifically, no” to the latter.

McCrery did say in court Friday that she’s on two different types of daily medication, including: 30 milligrams of an antidepressant/sleeping medication, which she takes at night; and 20 milligrams of an anti-anxiety medication, administered in a 10-milligram dose in the morning and a 10-milligram dose in at bed.

Nadeau asked McCrery if she believed the medication “clouded” her mind in a way that may prevent the woman from “making a clear judgment,” to which McCrery replied, “I believe they’re helping me.”

McCrery made no other statements during her court appearance, and her attorneys — Julia Nye and David Bettencourt — declined comment.

McCrery’s family also declined comment. Morrell declined to discuss details of the case outside the courtroom, although she said the plea does bring resolution to a “difficult” ordeal for the families of McCrery and Hughes.

[Editor’s note: Check back later for a video interview with Morrell.]

McCrery will be sentenced on Jan. 13. McCrery wasn’t sentenced today because Morrell said not all of her family members could attend. Morrell said the family members in attendance Friday requested not to be named or identified.

Following the hearing, McCrery was presumably taken back to the Strafford County House of Corrections, where she has been held since her arraignment in Portsmouth District Court earlier this year due to the fact that Strafford has better facilities for female inmates than Rockingham County.

UPDATE, 9:48 a.m.: Julianne McCrery pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges during a hearing this morning in Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood.

Prosecutors said McCrery, 42, killed her 6-year-old son Camden Hughes in a Hampton hotel earlier this year, and then dumped his body in a wooded area of South Berwick, Maine.

McCrery was not sentenced today because not all of her family members could attend, although there were undisclosed family members in attendance Friday.

The sentencing hearing will be held on Jan. 13…

Julianne McCrery, 42, has already [pled guilty] to second-degree murder for, Camden Hughes, 6, and dumping his body in a wooded area of South Berwick, Maine.

McCrery’s plea deal carries a prison sentence of 45 years to life, although she won’t be formally sentenced until Jan. 13.