Trial begins for woman charged with murder of autistic daughter

Robert Kerns

In opening statements in the murder trial of Karen McCarron, Tazewell County Assistant State’s Attorney Kirk Schoenbein said the mother had an obsession with finding a cure for her daughter's autism.

Karen McCarron, 39, of Morton, a former pathologist, is accused of suffocating her 3-year-old autistic daughter, Katie, with a trash bag May 13, 2006, at her parents’ home.

She has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Schoenbein said Karen McCarron took matters into her own hands after she and her husband attempted to investigate multiple schools for their child.

“But the treatment was not going to make the autism go away. So she found another way,” he said.

Defense attorney Marc Wolfe said during his opening statements that Karen McCarron’s mental illness will be a big issue in the trial.

“She is a woman who has dealt with life stresses. What we have to ultimately remember is what happened on May 13 and what her state of mind was on that day, not what her state of mind was three weeks before or after the crime,” Wolfe said.

The first witness called to the jury stand was Paul McCarron, Karen McCarron’s husband.

Paul McCarron testified:

- During their courtship, Karen McCarron never showed any type of mental illness even while going through the rigors of medical school. However, later as a resident in a medical clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, Karen McCarron told Paul McCarron she had began seeing a psychologist due to the stress of working as a resident doctor and going to school.

-  Just after Katie’s first birthday, the couple began to notice that her speech was not developing as it should. Katie was later diagnosed with a mild case of autism. The McCarrons immediately sought therapy for their daughter.

- After Katie attended a therapy school in North Carolina, the child began to show improvement. “She could identify people, colors, shapes and could say her ABCs. She showed considerable improvement,” he said.

- After Paul McCarron and Katie spent several months in North Carolina, where the child received therapy, the McCarrons decided to move Katie back to Morton. Prior to Katie’s return, Karen McCarron asked her husband what he thought about putting Katie up for adoption. When asked by state prosecutor Kevin Johnson how he replied to this, Paul said, “No way in hell.”

Paul McCarron then described the night his daughter died. He testified:

- On May 13, while in North Carolina, he received a phone call from his wife in which she said Katie was not breathing and that paramedics were currently working on her. Paul McCarron later received another phone call from his mother-in-law saying his daughter was dead.

- After flying home that night, Paul McCarron found his wife locked in a bathroom. After kicking the door open he found her on the floor with cuts to her wrists and Tylenol pills on the counter.

- Paul McCarron said he then asked what happened to Katie several times before Karen would answer him. “I hurt Katie,” Karen McCarron told him. After asking family members to leave the bathroom, Karen McCarron told her husband, “You will never forgive me,” as she handed him her engagement ring. She then told him that she suffocated Katie with a trash bag earlier that day at her mother’s home just a few blocks away.

- Paul McCarron then told his brother, Joseph McCarron, to call the police. After the Morton police arrived, Paul McCarron told them what his wife said.

While being questioned by the defense, Paul McCarron said his relationship had been “very strong” with Karen McCarron even while he was living with Katie in North Carolina and Karen McCarron was living in Morton with their youngest daughter.

In response to defense attorney Stephen Baker’s question how Karen McCarron felt about Katie’s autism, Paul McCarron said, “All Karen ever thought about was finding a cure for the autism.”

After Baker asked him if Karen McCarron had ever told him of any suicidal thoughts, Paul McCarron said she had done so shortly after she was prescribed an antidepressant from the psychologist who was treating her in Cleveland, years before.

Baker asked if Paul McCarron ever told Karen McCarron she was too focused on finding a cure. Paul McCarron again said yes but also noted that Karen McCarron felt guilty for Katie’s autism because of vaccines she received during her pregnancy.

After the murder, Paul McCarron filed for divorce. Proceedings in that case are pending.

Lisa Hill, an occupational therapist with Easter Seals in Peoria was called to testify next.

Hill was a therapist that treated Katie prior to her leaving for North Carolina and shortly after her return. The therapist said that after Katie’s return from treatment in North Carolina, Karen McCarron insisted Katie was not progressing.

However, Hill said Katie was in fact showing improvement.

“She was able to pick up on words that she wasn’t able to do before she left our treatment a year and a half earlier.”

Both sides in the case are expected to hear from other witnesses today at the Tazewell County Courthouse. The trial is expected to begin at 9 a.m.

Pekin Daily Times