PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon woman who threw her autistic 6-year-old son off a bridge on the Oregon coast has pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 25 years.
Jillian McCabe, 36, of Newport called 911 in 2014 to report she had thrown her son from the Yaquina Bay Bridge, an arch bridge that rises 133 feet above the water. Emergency crews searched for hours before the body of London McCabe was found about a mile from the span. Hundreds of people attended a candlelight vigil for the child.
“The fall did not kill London. He suffered broken bones from the impact of the fall and ultimately drowned,” Lincoln County District Attorney Michelle Branam said Tuesday.
Prosecutors had kept many details of the case secret ahead of an anticipated August trial. McCabe accepted a plea agreement and was sentenced Monday, allowing Branam to reveal more information about a case that drew national attention.
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Relatives said after McCabe’s arrest that she struggled with mental illness while trying to care for London and for her husband, Matt McCabe, who was ailing from multiple sclerosis.
But Branam said the killing was done with much calculation, and she believed McCabe faked symptoms of mental illness, such as hearing voices, whenever it suited her purpose.
The prosecutor said McCabe was concerned for her lifestyle after her husband’s condition forced him to give him up good-paying work. She wanted to escape responsibility by living at the state mental hospital.
“Everyone hopes it can be explained by way of mental illness so we don’t have to leave open the possibility that a mother could plan to so horrifically murder her child,” Branam said.
McCabe’s attorney, Deborah Burdzik, did not return a phone message seeking comment.
In the weeks before killing her son, McCabe did extensive Internet research on ways to murder the child and how to get away with it by using an insanity defense.
“She searched stabbing, drowning and dropping from a 133-foot fall, the exact height of the Yaquina Bay Bridge,” Branam said.
She also searched “Andrea Yates” more than 60 times on her phone. Yates is the Houston woman who was committed to a state mental hospital after drowning her five children in a bathtub in 2001.
Branam said McCabe appeared happy at the county jail. She spoke enthusiastically about books she planned to read and showed no remorse for her son.
Matt McCabe filed for divorce after the crime, and court records show the 10-year marriage officially ended in December.
“I can’t say enough about this boy,” the ex-husband said Tuesday. “He was my pride and joy. He was the center of my attention; his loss leaves a black hole in the center of my life.
“If you know an autistic individual, he needs love, too. Maybe more than you and I.”
Follow Steven DuBois at twitter.com/pdxdub