A Summerville woman accused of killing a 3-year-old girl entrusted to her care told police she had whipped the child multiple times with a belt after she had urinated on the floor, according to court records.
Erica Mae Butts, 23, of Congaree River Drive, is charged with homicide by child abuse in the death of Serenity Richardson. Butts was being held in the Charleston County jail without bail after a bond hearing Thursday before county Magistrate Linda Lombard.
Serenity's lifeless body was found at Butts' residence about 7 p.m. Tuesday after Butts' mother dialed 911 and said the child was not breathing, according to court records. Summerville firefighters were the first to arrive and found the child in full cardiac arrest.
An unidentified woman inside the house told a paramedic the girl was sitting in a chair, fell backward and struck her head, the police report says.
Charleston County EMS took Serenity to Summerville Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead at 8:05 p.m.
Doctors and nurses at the hospital saw cuts and bruises on Serenity's chest, abdomen, legs, arms, feet and back. The police report said there was a golf-ball sized bruise on her head and a large burn mark on her right leg. An autopsy by a Medical University of South Carolina forensic pathologist determined that the cause of death was "full body blunt force trauma," the warrant says.
In addition to telling police she had whipped the child, Butts also told them Serenity had fallen and hit her head several times and that 30 minutes after her last fall, Serenity's breathing became shallow, court records said. At that point, instead of dialing 911, Butts called her mother, who lives in Goose Creek, for help.
Butts and Serenity's mother, Ieshia Richardson, were best friends, according to Richardson. Butts' lawyer, Christopher Lizzi, said Butts was Serenity's godmother. According to reports from WDIV-TV in Detroit, Richardson had left Serenity with Butts for several weeks while she was in the process of moving in Detroit.
The bond hearing was the first opportunity for Ieshia Richardson to deal publicly with her child's death. She was at her home in Detroit when she spoke to The Post and Courier on Wednesday and said she had hoped to be able to attend the hearing.
The bond hearing was held via a closed-circuit television system. Butts was in the county jail across the street. Her image appeared on a monitor in the courtroom.
Richardson had a number of relatives and friends standing at her side as the hearing began. Friends had their arms around her for support.
Appearing on Butts' behalf, in addition to Lizzi, her attorney, were Butts' mother and sister.
When Lombard read the charge to Butts, Richardson's knees buckled and she burst into tears when she heard the word "homicide."
Lombard explained to all present that she would not be able to set a bond, that only a circuit court judge could set bond on the charge. Then she asked if any of them had anything to say.
Lizzi said Butts and her family were very upset. "This is a very tragic event," he said. He went on to tell Lombard that Butts has a clean record and has never been in trouble.
Lombard then looked toward the victim's side of the courtroom. "The entire family is devastated," said Pam Stone, a victim's advocate with the Summerville Police Department. "This was her only child." Overwrought with grief, Richardson wailed loudly.
Butts, who could hear what was going on in the courtroom, also began crying. "I'm sorry, Ieshia. I'm so sorry," she said.
The family of Serenity Richardson has set up a bank account to help with funeral expenses. Donations to the Serenity Richardson Memorial Fund can be made at any Bank of America branch.