Mother charged in son’s death to be held without bail

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CONCORD, Mass. (AP) — The Texas woman charged with killing her 6-year son in New Hampshire is going to be held without bail on a second degree murder charge pending another court hearing.

Forty-two-year-old Julianne McCrery of Irving, Texas stared at the floor during a brief court appearance Thursday in Portsmouth District Court and appeared to be crying as she was led out by police.

When asked by Judge Sawako Tachibana Gardner if she wanted a court-appointed lawyer, McCrery answered in a clear voice, “yes, ma’am.”

McCrery was taken to Portsmouth on Thursday after she appeared in a Massachusetts court and waived extradition.

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McCrery is charged with asphyxiating her son, 6-year-old Camden Hughes, on Saturday in Hampton. His body was found in South Berwick, Maine.

Before the earlier extradition hearing, defense lawyer George Murphy said he believes investigators have a confession from McCrery, and he said that based on conversations with his tearful client that he believes she came to the region with the idea of taking her son’s life and committing suicide.

“I believe she was up here to bring both herself and her son to heaven,” Murphy said. “She told me, ‘I love my son very much. I know where he is. He’s in heaven. I want to go there as soon as possible.'”

The case drew national attention after the discovery of the boy’s body because no one reported him missing.

Preliminary autopsy findings showed that the cause of Camden’s death was asphyxiation and the manner of death was homicide, according to Maine’s chief medical examiner. The homicide remains under investigation.

McCrery was detained Wednesday at a Massachusetts highway rest stop after police got a tip on her pickup truck, which matched a vehicle spotted near the spot where the boy’s body was found covered with a blanket.

Murphy said McCrery told him that she’d attempted suicide within the past few days and had tried to kill herself several times in 2004, although she did not explain why, Murphy said. He added that he believes she is competent to face the charges against her.

The police apprehension of her Wednesday set off a rapid-fire chain of events in which the investigation shifted from Maine, where the boy’s body was discovered, to Massachusetts, where McCrery was found and questioned, and finally to New Hampshire, where authorities believe the boy died and the formal charges were ultimately filed.

She did not explain why she came to New England, Murphy said. All three locations are geographically close together; it’s about 65 miles from where the boy’s body was found in Maine to where the mother was arrested in Chelmsford, Mass.

Texas public records show that McCrery 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.

The voicemail for a Texas phone listing for McCrery was full.

Her son died Saturday, the same day his body was discovered by a local resident in South Berwick, Maine, near the state line with New Hampshire, officials said. He had not been reported missing, and amid several frustrating days seeking his identity, Maine State Police had released a computer-generated image showing a boy with dirty blond hair and blue eyes.

Christian von Atzigen, of Irving, Texas, said he told police he recognized the boy as the son of McCrery, a woman he and his wife have been close friends with since she and his wife met in school 15 years ago.

“We didn’t want to believe it,” von Atzigen said.

“Julie’s a good person. If you would ever ask me if she would harm a hair on that precious little boy’s head, I would say never,” he told The Associated Press. “She loves that boy.”

Von Atzigen said that after McCrery and her husband divorced, he and his wife remained friends with both of them. He said Camden was a happy boy, and he never heard McCrery raise her voice to him.

“I never even saw her discipline him,” he said. “He was just a great little boy, just fun, a good kid, smart as a whip,” he said.

Von Atzigen said he last saw McCrery on Easter, when she came to his house to get a part to fix her hot water heater. While she was there, she dropped off some of Camden’s toys for his 2-year-old son, he said.

He said he doesn’t know why McCrery was in Maine.

“My wife talked to her a couple of days ago and everything seemed OK,” he said. “There was no mention of her going anywhere.”

Maine State Police had enlisted the help of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service after a witness noticed naval insignia on a truck being driven by a woman near where the body was found.

McCrery was taken into custody at a highway rest stop in Massachusetts after police got a tip she was there. She was in a truck that matched the description of the vehicle, authorities said.

In Maine, the case has led to an outpouring of emotion. Several hundred people attended a candlelight vigil in the boy’s memory Tuesday night in front of the South Berwick town hall.

Near where the boy was found, people have placed three crosses, dozens of stuffed animals, candles, flowers, a baseball and other children’s items. A framed piece of paper says, “God Bless This Little Boy.”

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Russ Contreras reported from Concord, Mass. Associated Press writers David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Clarke Canfield in Alfred, Maine; and Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H.; contributed to this report.

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