CONROE, Texas — 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.
Verna McClain was awaiting trial on a capital murder charge for the April 2012 fatal shooting of 28-year-old Kala Golden-Schuchardt. Authorities say McClain ambushed the new mother outside a pediatric clinic in the Houston suburb of Spring and snatched her 3-day-old son, Keegan, after shooting her.
The infant was found hours later 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 so her boyfriend wouldn't leave her.
Montgomery County prosecutors had said they would seek the death penalty against McClain, 32. But Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon said Tuesday the plea agreement was about giving Golden-Schuchardt's family closure in the criminal case. He said he had promised her family that McClain would die in prison, either by lethal injection or by never being free again.
"After today, we'll never speak the name of Verna McClain again. She'll die and wither away. But baby Keegan will have something. Baby Keegan will never have to go through the uncertainty of the appeals. The mother, the brother, the family won't have to wrestle in turmoil. ... Kala (and her family) got something few people get. They got some certainty."
Golden-Schuchardt's mother, Linda Golden, said she was pleased McClain never would get out of prison but that she would "never be over the pain of losing my daughter."
"What would I say to her right now?" Golden said regarding her daughter. "I would say she got justice and that I'm watching over her babies the best I can."
Golden said Keegan, who was returned to his father, is doing well and has started to walk and talk. She said her daughter's two other sons, ages 3 and 6, still cry out for their mother and ask when she is coming home.
Appearing before Judge Kelly Case in a pink and white striped jail suit, McClain said little Tuesday, providing one word "yes" and "no" answers in response to the judge's questions.
One of her attorneys, Tyrone Moncriffe, said McClain has always been 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' capital murder 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 they did not pursue a similar defense for McClain, calling it a "hard sell" in part because they could find no evidence of insanity and no history of mental illness.
Ligon said McClain was a common criminal and not someone who had suffered a mental breakdown.
Authorities said McClain waited outside a pediatrician's office looking for a baby to kidnap. Witnesses said she repeatedly shot Golden-Schuchardt, then grabbed Keegan from her truck and drove away.
According to witnesses, the dying woman leaned into the vehicle and tried to take back her son, screaming, "My baby!"
Two detectives later spotted a vehicle outside a nearby apartment complex that matched witnesses' descriptions. McClain showed up at the apartment, and in their conversation, detectives learned of McClain's sister and where the child could be found.
Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70