BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Katherine Papke knew her 4-month-old son was dead when she found him.
And she will never forgive herself for making a fatal mistake.
"I will always be haunted," she told FOX6 News Anchor Beth Shelburne in an exclusive interview. "When I found him...when I was unbuckling his seat, there was one tear in the corner of his eye that I brushed out. I live with that tear, because I know he was crying for me."
Cries she never heard because her baby was alone in a sweltering car when he died of heat exposure.
It's happened at least three times in Alabama this summer. And the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving parent gets busy or distracted and makes a fatal mistake by forgetting a child is in the car.
According to statistics compiled by the national childs' safety advocacy group KidsandCars.org, in about half of cases authorities examine the evidence, determine that the child's death was a terrible accident and file no charges. In the other half of the cases, authorities decide that the negligence was so great that they must pursue charges.
According to an Associated Press study, women accused in cases like this are jailed more often and for longer periods than men. But when the AP compared mothers and fathers, the sentencing gap was even wider. Mothers were jailed 59 percent of the time, compared to 47 percent for fathers. And the median sentence was three years for dads, but five years for moms.
Katherine Papke's case is one that authorities are pursuing. The 35-year-old mother of three, and a first class sergeant in the U.S. Army, faces a manslaughter charge in the death of her four-month-old boy.
Her son's crib is still in his room. His shoes and hat are on display. A constant reminder of her fatal mistake that August morning. Some say that reminder is punishment enough. But the Calhoun County District Attorney is going forward and sending the case to a grand jury. We believe it's the first case of this kind to be prosecuted in the state.
Papke told FOX6 she wanted to hang herself with her boot laces while she was jailed, but something kept her from ending it all. Tonight at 10 p.m., Katherine Papke is speaking publicly for the first time to FOX6 News Anchor Beth Shelburne.
You will hear her explain the events of that tragic morning, when she realized her son was dead and why she said it's helpful to never forgive herself.
Watch FOX6 News at 10 p.m. for this exclusive interview. You can watch on TV, online at www.FoxAlabamaLive.com or the WBRC smartphone app.