BRENTWOOD, N.H. – A Texas woman was sentenced Friday to 45 years in prison for suffocating her 6-year-old son in a New Hampshire motel room and leaving his body along a dirt road in Maine.
The discovery of Camden Hughes' body last May set off a nationwide effort to identify him. Meanwhile, his mother, Julianne McCrery, called his kindergarten daily to report him absent with appendicitis.
McCrery, 42, of Irving, Texas, later told prosecutors she had planned to kill herself and that she killed Camden because no one else was fit to raise him. But prosecutors say they have evidence McCrery felt the boy was an inconvenience and that she planned to go about her own life after killing him.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell questioned McCrery's assertion that she planned to kill herself by ingesting potentially lethal castor beans. Morrell pointed out that McCrery had attempted suicide several years earlier by the same means and had failed.
"This case raises more questions than there are answers for," Morrell said.
McCrery spoke tearfully at her sentencing hearing, calling her son "extraordinary."
"I am very sorry to have caused the intense pain and suffering to my precious son Camden," she said. "He did nothing whatsoever to deserve that by my hand, and he was not an inconvenience to me.
"My sorrow is intense and unbearable."
Defense attorney Julia Nye said an insanity defense was considered, but McCrery rejected that option.
"She chose to accept responsibility for her actions," Nye said.
McCrery pleaded guilty in November to kneeling atop her son as he laid face-down on the floor of their motel room floor in Hampton, N.H. She told investigators she covered his mouth with her hand as he struggled to survive. Morrell said the pressure McCrery applied to Camden was so great it bruised one lung and the base of his skull.
McCrery's son and brother both told her during remarks to the court that they love and forgive her. Her brother, Chris Hughes, asked Superior Court Judge Tina Nadeau to shorten the sentence a bit so her other son, Ian McCrery, "might possibly have some time with her."
Nadeau held to the agreed upon 45-year sentence, adding, "There's nothing I can say here today to lessen the devastation."
Julianne McCrery thanked a family from South Berwick, Maine, for discovering Camden's body and later starting a children's charity in his memory. She called them "angels on earth" for trying to bring some comfort to her son.
Lisa Gove was en route to her in-laws' house on a remote road on May 14 when she noticed a pickup truck with its doors open, bearing a Navy insignia. She and her in-laws soon discovered his body, which was under a green blanket 30 feet from the road.
Gove's detailed description of the truck and the Navy insignia led a driver at a Chelmsford, Mass., truck stop to spot McCrery's truck on May 18 with her inside.
When she was questioned, McCrery identified herself and told police she had killed her son at a Hampton motel and left his body under a green blanket by the side of the road.
"Life as I knew it ended May 18, 2011," her mother, Lu Rae McCrery, told the judge Friday. "Camden's life, I believe, was taken in a misguided moment. We will never be whole again."
Lu Rae McCrery said after court that she had at least one phone conversation with her daughter but had no idea she had left Texas with Camden and had driven to New England.
Without Gove's chance observation, Morrell said, "it was highly unlikely he would have been found."
Julianne McCrery said it has taken a while for her grief to fully unfold, but now it is "excruciating."
Texas public records show that she was arrested at least twice on prostitution charges and once for possession with intent to distribute drugs. In 2009, she was sentenced to one year in prison for a misdemeanor conviction of prostitution. In 2004, she was sentenced to three years of probation for a felony conviction of possession of a controlled substance.
Morrell acknowledged that McCrery did not have an easy life but said investigators could not determine what led her to consider suicide. McCrery spent the drive from Texas to New England contemplating how she would kill her son, the prosecutor said.
She said McCrery extinguished a bright star "before he even had the chance to graduate from kindergarten."