Wake judge declares woman who suffocated son insane; drops murder charge

ablythe@newsobserver.comJanuary 17, 2014 

— A Wake County Superior Court judge has dismissed a murder charge against a 30-year-old woman accused of suffocating her 2-year-old son in a Super 8 Motel in 2012.

Judge Donald Stephens ruled Thursday that Michelle Danielle Harpster was insane and delusional when she killed her son, Joshua Callahan, while a guest at the hotel on New Bern Avenue.

In a hearing in Wake County Superior Court on Thursday, mental health experts described Harpster as a woman who believed “rich, white people” were conspiring to take her son and either sell him or use him as a sex slave.

While putting her hands over the boy’s mouth and nose, Harpster prayed and sang to the child, saying, “Nobody’s going to hurt you.”

After the suffocation, Harpster told investigators and mental health experts that she thought at the time that killing her son had saved him from a fate worse than death by sending him “to Jesus.”

At the time of the death on Sept. 26, 2012, Harpster had been in a custody dispute with Joshua’s father, Mark Callahan of North Port, Fla. Callahan had obtained a court order for Harpster to return to Florida for a custody hearing.

Callahan and Harpster had a relationship in Florida, although she left while still pregnant with their son, and he was born in Maryland. She had visited Florida since, and motel workers said she had a Florida driver’s license when she checked in to the Super 8 in the summer of 2012.

Police discovered the death in Room 323 after a maintenance worker found the door barricaded.

Investigators said Harpster was on the floor by the bed with numerous cuts on her body, wounds she inflicted with a razor so she and her boy could be with Jesus.

Police who searched the room seized broken glass and two razor blades along with cellphones, notebooks and other items, according to search warrants.

After dismissing the murder charge, Stephens ordered that Harpster, a diagnosed schizophrenic, be involuntarily committed. The judge ruled that she posed a danger to herself and others.

“It’s real hard not to think about the tragic life of the child in this and about how society so miserably failed this child,” Stephens said.

Blythe: 919-836-4948; Twitter: @AnneBlythe1

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