A Montana woman accused of hiding the body of her 2-year-old son in the trunk of her car for most of last summer pleaded guilty Friday to negligent homicide and evidence tampering.
Summer ManyWhiteHorses told detectives that her son, James, fell from a high chair on the night of May 28 while she was watching television in another room.
She put his body in the trunk of her car and drove around the state with her 11-year-old daughter for nearly two months, paying for food, gas, hotel rooms and alcohol with government checks meant to take care of the boy, who was autistic.
ManyWhiteHorses appeared before a judge in Great Falls on Friday, three days before her trial was scheduled to start. The 31-year-old woman could be punished with up to 100 years in prison when she is sentenced next month in Cascade County District Court.
Child-welfare officials began looking for the toddler in July, when ManyWhiteHorses was arrested and charged with drunken driving after crashing her car into a parked vehicle in Great Falls. Police officials did not search her trunk, and the car was towed.
Welfare officials filed a missing person's report Sept. 4. The next day, police contacted ManyWhiteHorses, who told them her son's remains were in the trunk. When police found the body, it was badly decomposed.
Autopsy records for the boy showed a fracture to the head and other injuries. Cascade County Attorney John Parker said that by combining medical evidence with witness testimony, he was prepared to prove the boy suffered from severe child abuse and neglect.
"We have evidence that during his two years of life he was beaten probably more than 100 times," Parker said.
ManyWhiteHorses originally was charged with deliberate homicide and evidence tampering.
According to the affidavit, ManyWhiteHorses said she thought her son was alive after he fell from his high chair.
She said she laid the toddler next to her on the couch, but when she woke up the next morning, he wasn't breathing, so she tried to resuscitate him with CPR.
She said she eventually wrapped her son's body in a blanket and placed it in her car trunk.