CONROE, Texas (AP) — A Houston woman accused of killing a mother and abducting her newborn son last year avoided a possible death sentence by pleading guilty Tuesday and accepting a sentence of life without parole.
Vera McClain, 32, was awaiting trial on a capital murder charge for fatally shooting the new mother outside a pediatric clinic in the Houston suburb of Spring and snatching her 3-day-old son. Montgomery County prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty against McClain for the April 2012 slaying of 28-year-old Kala Golden-Schuchardt.
The infant was found hours later safe with McClain's sister, who told authorities McClain intended to adopt the child.
Investigators and McClain's relatives said she had a miscarriage and was desperate to find a baby to pass off as her own.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said he had promised Golden-Schuchardt's family that McClain would die in prison either by lethal injection or by never being free again. Tuesday's plea agreement provided finality and meant the family no longer would have to come to court, he said.
"It's the right verdict for the family, and Kala," Ligon said.
Golden-Schuchardt's mother, Linda Golden, said she was pleased McClain never would get out of prison but added, "I'll never be over the pain of losing my daughter."
McClain appeared Tuesday before State District Judge Kelly Case dressed in a pink and white striped jail suit. She said little, providing one word "yes" and "no" answers in response to the judge's questions.
One of her attorneys, Tyrone Moncriffe, said McClain is remorseful.
"It was a tragedy," he said. "She just feels sorry for the family."
Her defense team also included George Parnham, the lead attorney for Andrea Yates, the suburban Houston woman charged with drowning her five children in 2001. Yates was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison, but her conviction was overturned on appeal. In 2006, she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to a mental hospital.
Parnham and Moncriffe said Tuesday they did not pursue a similar defense for McClain because they could find no evidence of insanity and no history of mental illness.
Authorities said McClain was waiting outside a pediatrician's office north of Houston. Witnesses said she repeatedly shot Golden-Schuchardt, then grabbed the child from her truck and drove away.
According to witnesses, the dying woman leaned into the vehicle and tried to take back her son, Keegan, screaming, "My baby!" but McClain sped off.
Later in the day, two detectives spotted a vehicle outside a nearby apartment complex that matched witnesses' descriptions. McClain later showed up at the apartment, and in their conversation, detectives learned of McClain's sister and where the child could be.
The abducted child was returned to his father.