Autistic Teen Accused Of Killing Mom

Kent State professor Gertrude "Trudy" Steuernagel and her autistic son Sky Walker. Steuernagel was beaten to death, and her son is being held in her murder. CBS

A Kent State University professor who was fatally beaten in her home was devoted to caring for her 18-year-old, severely autistic son, friends say.

He is charged with attacking her, but should he stand trial in his mother's death? The question was raised on The Early Show Saturday Edition.

There was a memorial service Friday night on the Kent State campus for Gertrude "Trudy" Steuernagel, 60.

She struggled to raise her son, Sky Walker, but she loved him and would want people to know that autism doesn't equal violence, said Steven Hook, chairman of the school's political science department, where Steuernagel taught political theory and women's studies.

Steuernagel died a week after she was severely injured in a beating.

An autopsy showed bruises around her head and chest, said Gary Guenther, an investigator with the Summit County medical examiner's office. The cause of death had not been determined.

Walker, who is being held in jail on $2 million bond, was scheduled to be arraigned on charges of attempted murder and assault on a police officer. Portage County Sheriff David Doak said the charge might be upgraded to murder.

Errol Can, an attorney representing Walker, declined to comment. Authorities have not discussed a possible motive.

Walker was diagnosed with autism before he turned three. His father lived with the family until the mid-1990s, and in recent years was completely removed from Walker's life, said fellow Kent State Prof. Molly Merryman, a colleague and close friend of Steuernagel's.

"I really, more than anything, want to say that these were a mother and son who loved each other deeply," said Merryman, who hosted Steuernagel and Walker at her farm on weekends.

Steuernagel wrote op-ed articles for the campus newspaper, the Daily Kent Stater, about the challenges of having an autistic child. Sky can barely speak.

"I had no patience with good and decent colleagues who told me how busy they were," she wrote last March. "Busy? Try spending an evening sitting in a closet with your back to the door trying to hold it shut while your child kicks it in."

Her son may have been a source of stress, but Steuernagel wrote that she also found him to be a source of joy.

"Sky, as he always does, showed me the way," she wrote. "Even on the worst of days, Sky would find something to enjoy, even if it lasted less than 30 seconds ... So I started to look for my joy."

As he got older, Sky became more difficult, and sometimes violent, Merryman says, adding his mom never gave up, and instead always stayed focused on those good moments they had. Indeed, Sky is a "delightful" boy, Merryman told CBS News.

"Sky and Trudy had an incredible full and loving relationship," Merryman told co-anchor Chris Wragge on The Early Show Saturday Edition. "And, despite Sky's inability to speak, it was always very evident to those who were privileged to associate with them that Sky was devoted to his mother. They both had a wicked sense of humor, and it was always evident that their jokes went back and forth, that there was just an absolute faith and level of love. And I don't think necessarily we need words to convey the love."

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