Mother tried to kill autistic daughter three days before actually doing it, she testifies

Kevin Sampier

Karen McCarron held a pillow over her autistic daughter’s face in an attempt to kill the girl three days before suffocating her with a plastic bag, and demonstrated the slaying Friday during her trial.

"It was just a thought," McCarron said as she testified during the fifth day of her murder trial in Tazewell County Circuit Court. "I just picked up a pillow."

McCarron went into 3-year-old Katherine "Katie" McCarron’s room May 10, 2006, she said, intending to kill her with the pillow but removed it from her face after, "not even five seconds," and left the girl’s room because she knew what she was doing was wrong.

Three days later, McCarron drove to her mother’s empty Morton home with Katie and wrapped a garbage bag around her head until she died.

Kevin Johnson, chief assistant Tazewell County state’s attorney, gave McCarron a garbage bag Friday and had her reenact how she suffocated the girl.

McCarron and Johnson stood together in the courtroom as she put the bag over Johnson’s arm, a representation of Katie’s head, and demonstrated for jurors how the murder took place.

"I pushed her down to her knees," McCarron said, and the two sat on the floor in front of the jury.

McCarron kneeled next to Johnson, her hands around the bag on his arm, as the questions and answers continued.

"I just scrunched the bag," she said and recalled letting it go after about two minutes because "she stopped struggling."

McCarron told jurors how she then listened for a heartbeat.

"I just put my ear to her chest," said McCarron, a former pathologist. "I heard one, then I heard nothing."

Johnson outlined all the steps McCarron took that day — the suffocation, bringing the girl’s body home and putting her in bed, throwing the bag away at a gas station and telling emergency workers the child died in her sleep.

McCarron acknowledged doing all of those things with simple "yes" answers, speaking softly from the stand.

McCarron said of the scene that unfolded at her mother’s:

"I just watched it happen," she said. "It was like a movie. It was surreal."

For the past week, jurors have heard emotional testimony from McCarron’s family, but there were no tears or emotion from McCarron.

McCarron said she was frustrated with Katie’s autism and was having homicidal and suicidal thoughts before killing her.

"I was very much in turmoil," she said.

At her mother’s house, McCarron said she considered killing herself or killing her daughter and the consequences each choice would bring. She then chose to kill Katie.

"At that moment, unfortunately, I felt that it was a good choice," she said.

McCarron was seeing a psychiatrist and was taking psychotropic medications for depression but stopped taking them a month before the murder.

She said she felt guilty about Katie’s autism and thought it may have been caused by vaccinations the girl was given when she was younger.

"I had such guilt and her behavior often increased my feelings of guilt," she said. "I felt I caused Katie’s autism."

Defense attorneys Marc Wolfe and Steve Baker have entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

"When you were suffocating your daughter, did you think you were killing her?" Wolfe asked McCarron.


"Who did you think you were killing?"


McCarron told police in a 2006 videotaped interview, which was played in court Thursday, she wanted a life without autism and said Katie’s autism left her felling hollow inside.

"It frustrated me completely," she told jurors.

McCarron was the only witness Wolfe called Friday and the trial was continued until 10 a.m. Monday. He is expected to call a medical expert to testify about McCarron’s mental state.

Judge Stephen Kouri said testimony could conclude Wednesday and jurors could begin deliberating.

McCarron is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of obstructing justice, one count of concealment of a homicidal death and is free on $1 million bond.

Kevin Sampier can be reached at (309) 346-5300 or