Mom declared insane at time of 2-year-old son's death
Posted January 16, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — A Wake County judge on Thursday dismissed a murder charge against a woman who suffocated her young son inside a Raleigh hotel room more than a year ago, finding that she was schizophrenic and delusional at the time of the crime and that she believed it was necessary to kill the boy because he was better off dead.
Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens also ordered that Michelle Danielle Harpster be involuntarily committed because she is still mentally ill and a danger to herself and others.
Harpster, 30, was charged with murder in October 2012 in the Sept. 26, 2012, death of her 2-year-old son, Joshua Callahan, who was found dead in a sleeping position on a pillow in a room at the Super 8 hotel on New Bern Avenue.
Mental health experts for both the state and the defense found that, at the time of the crime, Harpster believed that "rich white people" were conspiring to take her son and either sell him or use him as a sex slave.
Harpster, they said, felt she had only two options: She could keep him alive and be kidnapped by strangers and used as a sex slave, or she could "send him to Jesus."
"If she didn't kill him, she thought, he would face a fate worse than death," said Dr. James Bellard, a forensic psychiatrist for the defense.
"She felt sort of morally justified and that it was extremely important for her to do that because she had no other choice," Stephanie Callaway, a clinical psychologist for the state, testified.
At the time of the crime, Harpster had been a guest at the Super 8 for several days. Police were called to the hotel after a maintenance worker couldn't get into the room.
A police detective testified that the door had been barricaded and that officers found Harpster on the floor by the bed with numerous cuts from a razor to her body – something she had done so she could join her son and be with Jesus.
Harpster admitted later that day at a hospital that she woke up around 3 a.m. while the boy was sleeping and put her hands over his mouth and nose while she prayed, sang to him and told him, "Nobody's going to hurt you."