Neighbors of a Texas woman accused of kidnapping a newborn boy after fatally shooting his mother said Thursday they were shocked when a photo of the friendly, polite woman flashed across their television screens following her arrest.
Verna McClain is accused of shooting 28-year-old Kala Golden outside a suburban Houston pediatric center and abducting her 3-day-old son, who was later found safe. Investigators believe McClain was desperate for a baby after suffering a miscarriage, and her attorneys said Thursday they planned to review her mental state.
Rochelle and Abel Aguirre said McClain lived in their apartment complex, where an apartment was raided by officers a few hours after Tuesday's nearby shooting. The couple said McClain was friendly and polite, and lived next door to her sister. They didn't know her well but said the sisters' children often played outside, with their mothers sitting nearby.
"They would sometimes be sitting outside, they didn't seem to bother anyone. They usually kept to themselves," Rochelle Aguirre said, adding that she and her husband were stunned when they saw her photo on the TV news.
A woman who said she was McClain's mother was emptying out the raided apartment Thursday. She declined comment, as did three men helping her load personal belongings into a vehicle.
McClain made a brief court appearance earlier Thursday, where she quietly told a judge she understood she was facing a capital murder charge, which could carry a death sentence. Her court-appointed lawyers said she was confused, visibly upset and mumbling to them during the hearing.
"It will take a while ... for her to have an appreciation for what the situation is, if she ever does appreciate it," defense attorney E. Tay Bond said after the hearing in Conroe, about 15 miles north of Spring.
The shooting occurred outside the Northwoods Pediatric Center in Spring, about 20 miles north of Houston, where McClain had taken her three children for checkups. But investigators believe Golden was randomly targeted.
Authorities said Golden was placing her son, Keegan Schuchardt, into her pickup truck when McClain repeatedly shot her, snatched the child and sped off in her car. Witnesses reported that Golden leaned into McClain's vehicle, screaming: "My baby!" She died at a hospital.
The infant was found safe hours later with McClain's sister, who told investigators that McClain told her she planned to adopt the boy. Investigators said McClain had told her fiancé she'd given birth to their child.
McClain intends to plead not guilty, Bond said, adding that a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity was "certainly something we will be visiting."
Handcuffed around her waist and wearing a pink-and-white striped prison uniform, McClain spoke softly and looked down during the court hearing. Texas District Judge Fred Edwards asked her several questions, including whether she owned a house or car, or had any savings. She responded, "No sir."
The judge delayed a bond hearing until Monday to give McClain's lawyers more time to review the case.
McClain is being held in a jail cell by herself under 24-hour watch, and Bond said he didn't believe any of her relatives had visited. Bond said he hopes McClain is granted a reasonable bond so she could take care of her children, who are being looked after by a relative.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said his office hasn't decided whether to seek the death penalty. Bond and McClain's other attorney, Stephen Jackson, said they didn't believe that punishment would be appropriate.
McClain's estranged husband said he was shocked at the events of recent days.
"I can't believe she shot someone. That's not Vera," Theo McClain, of San Diego, told The Associated Press.
McClain was a vocational nurse, a job that involves providing basic nursing services under the direction of registered nurses and doctors. She holds vocational nursing licenses in California and Texas and has not faced disciplinary action in either state, according to licensing boards.
A statement released late Thursday by Epic Health Services said McClain wasn't working the day of the shooting and has since been fired.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of Kala Marie Golden and we stand ready to cooperate fully with the police in their investigation into this matter," Epic CEO John C. Garbarino said. "Out of respect for the victim's family, we will not offer any further comments."
A company spokeswoman declined to say how long McClain worked for Epic or detail her specific duties. According to the company's website, Epic provides private duty nursing services for medically fragile children and adults facing chronic illness or catastrophic injuries.
Associated Press writer Linda Stewart Ball in Dallas contributed to this report.