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Babysitter indicted in child abuse death; charge against toddler's father dismissed

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Clara Ellis

Clara Ellis. Cannon Detention Center/Provided

A babysitter has been indicted in the 2014 death of a 17-month-old girl, and authorities have dismissed a charge against the child's father. 

Clara Jean Ellis, 56, of Dorchester Road in North Charleston was arrested Wednesday on a charge of homicide by child abuse, according to the S.C. Attorney General's Office, which is prosecuting the case. The felony is punishable by between 20 years and life in prison.

The victim, Payton Elizabeth Williams, suffered "abusive head trauma," among other injuries, on April 16, 2014, according to court records.

Eugene Anthony Wright, 49, was initially charged with homicide by child abuse. At the time of his daughter's death, he was accused of slamming her to the floor in his Dorchester Gardens apartment in North Charleston. 

The Attorney General's Office said after further investigation, it was determined that Wright could not have committed the crime and the charge has been dismissed. Spokeswoman Hayley Thrift Bledsoe said she could not speak to the specifics of why the charge was dropped.

Authorities had alleged that Wright lifted the girl above his head in an "angry rage" and slammed her body to the kitchen floor. Her head hit the floor. 

Police earlier said the girl's mother was at work when the abuse occurred.

In 911 tapes, an unidentified woman struggled to keep the girl awake while speaking with a dispatcher. 

"She was standing up and she just fell out," the woman told a dispatcher. "If I shake her once in a while, she'll move."

Payton suffered bleeding and swelling to her brain, retinal hemorrhages and extensive soft tissue edema along her spine, authorities said. She died three days later at Medical University Hospital.

Records show that Wright spent over two years in jail before he was released in May on a personal recognizance bond. The charge against him was dismissed in December, following a grand jury's indictment of Ellis. The indictment does not detail the evidence against her.

The case, which was initially investigated by the North Charleston Police Department and prosecuted by the 9th Circuit Solicitor's Office, is now being investigated by the State Law Enforcement Division.

Reach Angie Jackson at 843-937-5705. Follow her on Twitter at @angiejackson23. 

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