Attorney: Coroner had no authority to set bail for babysitter in child death case

Alicia Stepp, an 18-year-old baby sitter, is charged with homicide by child abuse in the July 4 death of 2-year-old Ginny Hughes in North Charleston. A coroner's jury on Oct. 5, 2012 found Stepp responsible for the child's death.Photo credit:PROVIDED by Cannon Detention Center

The attorney for a baby sitter charged in a North Charleston toddler’s death says Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten had no business setting bail for his client and the courts must intervene to give Alicia Stepp a shot at getting out of jail.

David Aylor, Stepp’s attorney,argues that Wooten had no authority to set Stepp’s bail at $100,000 after her Oct. 5 arrest in the death of 2-year-old Ginny Rose Hughes. Stepp has been jailed ever since.

Stepp, 18, is charged with homicide by child abuse. Under state law, only a circuit court judge can set bail on that a charge, a so-called “serious offense” that carries a punishment of 20 years to life in prison, Aylor said.

“When you are following any kind of legal process, you don’t step above your authority,” he said. “And in this situation, I think (Wooten) clearly did.”

The courts are expected to take up his motion to set a new bail in the case on Friday.

Wooten could not immediately be reached for comment this morning.

Aylor has previously accused Wooten of violating Stepp’s constitutional rights during an Oct. 5 coroner’s inquest into Ginny’s July 4 death. He maintains that his client did not have an attorney present during the proceeding, was not informed of her constitutional rights before testifying and was never told she was a potential target.

Wooten has cited laws that allow her to conduct the fact-finding mission without reading witnesses their rights. Much of the proceedings, she acknowledged, wouldn’t be admissible in a criminal trial, but the evidence clearly showed that Ginny died at the hands of another, she has said.

“The ultimate decision,” Wooten has said, “is a determination to be made in a court of law.”

Stepptestified twice during the day-long inquest about her actions with Ginny, who died after her brain was deprived of oxygen. The coroner’s office found evidence that abuse was potentially involved, and the six-member jury Wooten empaneled found Stepp responsible for the little girl’s death.

Stepp was arrested that night on a warrant issued by Wooten.

Stepp was the live-in baby sitter for Ginny as her mother, 25-year-old Amanda Montagu, worked. Stepp blamed Ginny’s several unexplained bruises on her attempts to walk with a birth defect that prevented the growth of her feet.

But experts testified that Ginny suffered seizures and a stroke in May that weren’t consistent with a fall. She was hospitalized again July 2 with a brain injury and died two days later.

Check back with postandcourier.com for more information on this story as it becomes available.

Reach Glenn Smith at 937-5556 or Twitter.com/glennsmith5.