FOX6 Exclusive: Katherine Papke talks about indictment in son's death

Attorney Jim Sturdivant and Katherine Papke (left side of table) speak with Beth Shelburne. Source: Aaron Lee/WBRC
Attorney Jim Sturdivant and Katherine Papke (left side of table) speak with Beth Shelburne. Source: Aaron Lee/WBRC

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Is it an accident or a crime?

The Anniston mother indicted this week for manslaughter in the heat-related death of her infant son is speaking exclusively to FOX6 News.

SFC Katherine Papke works at Fort McClellan in Anniston. Her son Bo died of heat stroke August 9th after SFC Papke failed to drop him off at daycare. She says she forgot to drop him off and instead drove straight to work. She later discovered him strapped in his car seat and called 911.

After Bo was pronounced dead, SFC Papke was arrested by Anniston police and charged with manslaughter. A Calhoun County grand jury indicted her for manslaughter this week. She maintains that his death was a terrible accident.

We spoke with SFC Papke at the office of her Birmingham attorney, Jim Sturdivant, Thursday afternoon.

It's the second time we've spoken with her since Bo died. Our first interview was done a little over five weeks after it happened.

We asked SFC Papke for reaction to the grand jury's decision. She says she was disappointed, but also understood that a indictment was a possibility.

She also says she was called to testify before the grand jury. She says her testimony lasted less than half an hour, a few jurors asked her about her military service and then she was excused.

SFC says she was surprised by the process because she couldn't have an attorney present or present a defense and she was not allowed to hear what was said about her.

"I've never done anything criminal in my life, so it's hard to be viewed as a criminal, it's hard to be treated that way," Papke said. "It's very difficult when you know in your heart what happened."

"Sometimes people's own prejudice and own fears stops them from hearing the truth. They hear the situation and they think they know what happened but they don't really listen," she added.

We asked if she thinks that's what came into play with the grand jury decision. She says she's not sure because she doesn't know what happened when she left the room.

Her attorney Jim Sturdivant says he was disappointed and surprised by the manslaughter verdict. He says the case does not meet the burden of proof for manslaughter because there has to be an awareness or consciousness of risk.

"The facts support that SFC Papke had no awareness of her child being in the car," says Sturdivant. "It's not a situation where she decided, 'Oh, I'll just run into the grocery store for 30 minutes or an hour and he'll be OK.' That might support a manslaughter charge. But those aren't the facts that we have here in this case."

SFC Papke says she has received an outpouring of cards, letters and prayers since she went public with her story. She says numerous parents who lost their children the same way have reached out to her to give her support.

SFC Papke is still employed at Fort McClellan and now has four visits a week with her two daughters via Skype and on the phone from New York. After Bo died, a judge awarded custody of her daughters to Papke's ex-husband who lives in New York. At the time of Bo's death, SFC Papke had sole custody of her daughters, who attended Sacred Heart School in Anniston.

SFC Papke says as tough as the criminal proceedings have been, the loss of her son is the hardest challenge she is still facing.

"I lost my son and anybody who has lost a child knows that grief eclipses everything else, nothing else matters," she said.

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