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Thomas Lawton Evans enters a plea hearing in court in Charleston on Thursday, October 3, 2019. He was sentenced to life in prison. Lauren Petracca/Staff

A kidnapper’s guilty plea was the last step a Johns Island family needed to put the horror of the past 20 months behind them, they said Thursday.

Since Thomas Lawton Evans broke into their home in February 2018, beat a mother and kidnapped her 4-year-old daughter, the family has struggled to get both victims through a series of hospitalizations, court hearings and the challenges of guiding five children back to everyday life.

Evans, 38, had already been sentenced to life in a federal court for kidnapping and sexually assaulting the girl before she was rescued in Alabama, but pleaded guilty in Charleston County circuit court to seven state charges that primarily addressed his attack on her mother.

“It is only today that he has to take responsibility for everything he did to me,” the woman said in a victim impact statement.

The Post and Courier does not identify victims of sexual assault.

The family had just bought their first home after the Coast Guard sent her husband to Charleston, she said, and they were eager to put down roots in a new city. He’d just left town for work a couple days before when Evans saw her.

“(Evans) spied (the woman) and her children and thought they looked like a perfect family,” 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said. “And he didn’t like that.”

Circuit Judge Roger Young asked Evans why he'd done it.

"Drugs," Evans mumbled.

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Charleston County Solicitor Scarlett Wilson speaks to the judge during a plea hearing for Thomas Lawton Evans in court in Charleston on Thursday, October 3, 2019. Lauren Petracca/Staff

The mother of five had just returned from taking her two oldest children to school when Evans burst into the home, pressed a knife to her jugular and threw her to the ground, bashing her head against the hardwood and shattering several bones in her face.

She struggled until he threatened to harm the children, Wilson said, then bound and sexually assaulted her. The woman managed to tell her daughter to run as she floated in and out of consciousness.

The next day, Alabama railroad workers found the girl and Evans in a stolen car parked by the tracks, 400 miles from Charleston. Officials rescued her and arrested Evans after a brief chase into Mississippi.

The woman still can’t feel much of her face, which is fortified with metal plates, and struggles to feel safe in her home, which the family hasn’t managed to sell. She’s tattooed an image of Rosie the Riveter over the ligature scars on her wrist. The trauma has impacted every one of her relationships, she told the court, and it’s often difficult for her to comfort her children.

“The canned answer of ‘don’t worry, that won’t happen’ won’t work on my children,” she said. “The unthinkable can and will happen.”

Evans muttered a brief apology to the woman.

At Wilson’s request, Young sentenced Evans to the maximum possible punishment: life in prison for burglary, 30 years for attempted murder, 30 years for first-degree criminal sexual conduct, 30 years for armed robbery, 30 years each for two kidnapping counts, and five years for possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime.

Evans will serve them concurrently with three federal life sentences.

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The survivor of an attack on Johns Island by Thomas Lawton Evans is hugged following a plea hearing in court in Charleston on Thursday, October 3, 2019. Evans was sentenced to life in prison. Lauren Petracca/Staff

The family has found solace in their faith and church community, and has been uplifted by the help from law enforcement. Friends and allies filled the pews on her side of the courtroom, and a string of supporters hugged her as they trickled out the door.

“We can keep going as a family — and I genuinely think we are thriving — because of people in law enforcement,” the woman said after the hearing. “They have spoken life into my family.”

Local law enforcement was eager to see their charges through, Wilson said, and the second hearing gave the woman a chance to confront her attacker with a clear mind.

“We’re done,” the victim’s husband said after the hearing. “So excited to move forward.”

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