Sitter's lawyer: Coroner was wrong to set bail

Ginny Rose Hughes, 2

The attorney for a baby sitter charged in a North Charleston toddler’s death said 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, argued Wooten lacked authority to set Stepp’s bail at $100,000 after her Oct. 5 arrest in the death of Ginny Rose Hughes, 2. Stepp has been jailed since.

Stepp, 18, is charged with homicide by child abuse. Under state law, only a circuit judge can set bail on that 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 amount in the case on Friday.

Wooten declined to comment on Aylor’s assertions Tuesday, saying it would be inappropriate for her to say more about the pending case at this time.

Aylor had accused Wooten of violating Stepp’s rights during an coroner’s inquest into Ginny’s July 4 death. Among other things, he said Stepp wasn’t properly informed of her constitutional right to deflect questioning during the inquest.

Stepp, the family’s live-in baby sitter, testified twice during the daylong proceeding Oct. 5.

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

Ginny died after her brain was deprived of oxygen, authorities said. 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 had 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 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.

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