Just hours after she pleaded guilty to murdering her 22-month-old son by kicking him in the head, Mary Lee Collins said she did not kill her son, Joshua. "I don't want anybody to think I'm saying 'Oh, I never hurt my kid - I was Mother Teresa.' I'm not," Collins said. But, she maintained: "I did not beat him and abuse him and cause his death. Someone else took him away from me."
Collins, 22, made her comments Monday in a jailhouse interview several hours after her guilty plea to the first-degree murder charge.
Under a plea agreement, Collins received a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years. She also was sentenced to 15 years on aggravated child abuse. The sentences are to run concurrently.
She said she was prepared to go to trial, but decided at the last moment to plead guilty. She said she wanted to spare her family the trauma of a trial. And she conceded that the evidence against her - including photographs of her son's battered body - was terribly convincing.
Collins said that after she saw a television news report of her guilty plea Monday, she told her fellow inmates in the Pasco jail: "If you were on the outside and saw my picture and Joshua's picture on the TV and in the papers, you would think 'She's a monster, baby killer.' I know I would think the same thing.
"But I don't want people thinking of me as a monster that killed her son. That's not who I am. I love my kids."
During the two-hour interview, Collins described herself as a frustrated mother under extreme pressure - with two young children and another on the way. She said she did occasionally strike her children out of anger. She admitted that the teeth marks on Joshua's body were hers.
"I bit him; I know that's not right," she said. "He bit me; I bit him back. That's what we did with Nathan (her older son). It cured him of biting.
"I'm not saying I don't deserve to go to prison at all. A bite mark is child abuse."
She said that despite her statements that she hurt Joshua, she did not strike her child in the head and did not cause his death. She said she cannot prove it, but thinks another person who had contact with Joshua was responsible for the child's death.
"I will still continue to say, 25 years from now, that I did not cause his death," she said.
During the interview, Collins reviewed the damning evidence against her. First of all, there were the statements she made to detectives.
"I told them whatever they wanted to hear so they'd let Raymond go," she said, referring to her boyfriend, Raymond Leet. Leet was charged with third-degree murder in connection with Joshua's death.
She said that detectives told her if she cooperated, her boyfriend would be able to leave and take home her oldest son, Nathan. She said she cooperated, thinking that further investigation would indicate that her statements were false. Evidently, the investigation indicated otherwise.
The other evidence that weighed against her were the photographs of her son's body.
"The pictures are very bad," she said, recalling the photographs that show bite marks, bruises and head wounds. "When I looked at the pictures I almost passed out."
Also, her criminal history of child abuse hurt her case. At the time of Joshua's death, Collins was on probation for child abuse.
"I know if I was out there and reading the newspaper, I would think I was guilty," she said.
Collins said she knows that the public perceives her as a "monster." She said when she hears of other cases of alleged abuse, she responds the same way. She recalled her reaction upon hearing of the case of Bradley McGee, a Polk County boy who died after he allegedly had his head pounded against a toilet.
"At first, I was like, they ought to grab them (Bradley's parents) and dunk them in a toilet," Collins said. "Then I thought that maybe we're not getting the whole story."
Collins, maintaining her innocence, said she hopes someday to learn what happened to her son, Joshua. But she said she knows for certain that her guilty plea will leave people with the impression that she killed her son.
"I know when people hear my name, what they think of," she said. "They need to think - maybe they don't have the complete story. I don't have the complete story."