Editor’s note: This story is based on sworn testimony from last week’s homicide by child abuse trial of Roger Williams.

Rodricus Williams loved to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” It became a ritual in the mornings at the Mount Pleasant home of Connie Huger, who started watching the toddler when he was about 5 months old to help his mother out.

“He could not sneeze without someone being there to say ‘Bless you,’ ” said Huger, a close friend of the family.

He loved to eat grits, or “gits,” as he would say. If he was hungry, he would get what he wanted. Rodricus started walking and talking by the time was 8 months old. He loved to do things for himself and be a little helper to others.

“In the morning when we’d head to school, he always tried to take his stroller down the steps. He’d climb in and strap himself in,” his mother, Shaneka Washington, said.

He constantly told people he loved them, from strangers at the mall to his family, who showered him with affection.

If only his father, Roger Anthony Williams, had felt the same way. Instead, his indifference would snuff out his son’s loving spirit before it ever had a chance to blossom.

Williams seemed hesitant to fill the role of being Rodricus’ father, according to Washington, who struck up a relationship with Williams after meeting him at a mall in 2006. They lasted less than a year as a couple, breaking up when Williams got angry at Washington for wanting to go out with her friends on her 21st birthday.

They were done romantically, but Washington soon discovered she was carrying Williams’ child.

“I told him I was pregnant. His response was that it could be anybody’s baby,” Washington said.

Williams was not at the hospital when Washington gave birth on Nov. 8, 2007. He was too busy gambling, she said. But he asked her to send him a picture of the newborn.

Williams saw Rodricus only a handful of times before the boy’s first birthday. The few times they saw each other usually consisted of trips to the barbershop so he could get Rodricus’ hair cut just like his own.

Child support was non-existent. But after several failed attempts to get him to take a paternity test, Williams finally agreed to learn whether he was indeed the boy’s father.

He met Washington at a hotel where she swabbed the inside of his mouth using a kit she had bought at a drug store. The test came back positive. Williams was Rodricus’ father.

Soon after, Williams started spending more time with his son. But he didn’t like what he saw.

“He started asking me why Rodricus would stand the way he did,” Washington said.

The toddler would occasionally put his hand on his hip with one foot turned out and the other inward.

Williams thought his toddler acted too feminine and needed to “man up.” He told Washington he would teach his son how to be a man.

A chance to bond

In early 2010, Washington and her son moved in with her sister in Columbia, where Washington was looking for a job. Soon after, Shaneka, known as Nikki, was working longer hours in the capital city. She needed some help. And the Hugers, who had fallen in love with Rodricus, eagerly agreed to watch him while she tried to get back on her feet.

Washington thought his time in the Lowcountry also would give Williams a chance to bond with his son.

Rodricus would spend the summer with his dad, who was then living with Grace Trotman in a home on Longbourne Way in suburban Summerville. Williams had two children with Trotman, one of them born just two months before Rodricus.

The 2-year-old began staying with his father on May 20, 2010. The arrangement wouldn’t last long.

Trotman didn’t mind Rodricus coming over at first, she said. “It was really good at the beginning,” Trotman said. “He was very happy. He liked to sing.”

But his laughter, his dancing, his happiness, and his life would soon begin to fade as Williams began a withering pattern of abuse, according to investigators.

Williams hated those songs Rodricus had learned to sing at the Hugers’ home. He didn’t believe in Jesus and didn’t want him singing songs like that, according to Trotman. Williams’ disdain for his son became apparent.

“He didn’t want him to be his son,” she said.

Rodricus’ singing soon turned into cries. In a home with no air conditioning, Rodricus would sleep on a blanket laid on the floor of a bedroom. They had little furniture. Sometimes they wouldn’t have food, according to Trotman.

Williams lashed out at his son when he would stand in what he considered a feminine pose. Williams would kick him or hit him and even would get his 2-year-old daughter to scratch or hit Rodricus to “toughen him up,” Trotman said.

Williams even videotaped his daughter slapping Rodricus once.

The beatings began taking their toll on the toddler’s head, according to medical experts. Rodricus began suffering what appeared to Trotman to be seizures. No one took him to the doctor.

“He’d just pop back up,” Trotman said.

The final blows

On June 6, 2010, Rodricus was in his room when his father called him out to the living room. The toddler walked out with feces on his pants.

Williams found it on the floor of the bedroom, and from the living room Trotman could hear banging against a wall. She could only imagine what Williams was doing to his son, considering the beatings she already had witnessed. She went inside the room when it was quiet again.

“Rodricus looked like he was in a daze,” Trotman said.

The next day, Trotman was at home with the children while Williams was at work. When Rodricus and her daughter started fighting, Trotman “popped” him, causing him to lose balance and hit his head on the wall. “He started acting different, like the other days, he was gasping for air,” Trotman said.

After attempting CPR on the toddler, Trotman, who didn’t have a phone, ran next door to use the neighbors’ phone.

She didn’t call 911. Instead, she called Williams, but got no answer. She called him at work and asked him if she should call an ambulance.

Absolutely not, he indicated. That was 10:37 a.m. Williams didn’t hurry home. By the time he made his way to the Summerville house an hour later, his son was already dead.

Williams didn’t clutch his son or cry. He told Trotman he didn’t know what to feel because he had no feelings for his son. So he grabbed a bottle of peroxide and began wiping his fingerprints off the body as he hatched a plan to make his son disappear.

By 12:30 p.m., Williams had asked a friend for a ride to Lowe’s to buy concrete. His friend thought he was building a patio for his home. Instead, Williams encased his son in a trash can of cement and dumped it behind a trailer in Orangeburg.

About a month later, Huger and Washington became concerned when Williams kept stalling when they wanted to see Rodricus. The women even showed up at Williams’ home on July 5, 2010, demanding to see him, to no avail.

The next day, Trotman and Williams set in motion a plan they had concocted to pretend to lose the child at The Battery in downtown Charleston. Williams thought he could fool Rodricus’ mother, Washington, by playing the audio from a video he had recorded of his daughter and Rodricus fighting. She would think he was alive before they were supposed to meet downtown.

The plan was foiled when Trotman admitted to investigators that the boy already had been dead for nearly a month.

Justice

It took 32 minutes for Roger Williams to decide he would conceal his son’s body in concrete after he died. It took a jury just one minute longer to decide he was guilty of killing his son. A judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“He got his day,” Connie Huger said in a Berkeley County courtroom on Thursday. “Someone realized this child went through what he went through. He didn’t deserve what he went through.”

Huger knows she can’t turn back time, but she admits she wishes she would have kidnapped Rodricus when she realized something was wrong.

Those who loved him hope to vanquish the thoughts of his final moments in this world and how he ended up discarded. Instead, they chose to remember the smiling boy who loved to be loved.

Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594.