A judge halved the bail amount this morning for an 18-year-old baby sitter who has been jailed for two weeks in the death of disabled toddler Ginny Hughes of North Charleston.
Circuit Judge Markley Dennis set Alicia Stepp’s bail at $50,000 during a hearing in downtown Charleston. If she is released, she must stay on house arrest except to visit her church, doctor’s office or attorney, David Aylor.
She faces a charge of homicide by child abuse and had been held in lieu of a $100,000 bail, an amount set by Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten.
Aylor argued that his client’s arrest after the coroner’s inquest Oct. 5 raised “extreme concerns in regards to constitutional rights” because Stepp wasn’t informed of her right to an attorney and to not incriminate herself when testifying.
“The coroner’s inquest is nothing short of a star chamber,” Aylor told the judge, a reference to the defunct English court proceeding known for arbitrary or strict rulings.
Wooten has maintained that the inquest is a long-established procedure for determining whether someone is at fault for a death even though police investigators couldn’t make that determination.
But in an age of high science that helps experts determine how someone died, Aylor has questioned whether the proceeding is antiquated.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson also likened the inquest to the “wild, wild West compared to a criminal trial.”
After hearing from Ginny’s loved ones and medical experts, the inquest jury found that Stepp was responsible for the girl’s death.
Ginny was born with a defect that stunted her feet’s growth. When the police were called to the Brossy Circle home where Stepp was working as a live-in baby sitter July 2, Stepp told officers that Ginny’s bruises were caused by falling when trying to walk.
But experts testified in front of Wooten and the six-member panel that the girl’s injuries, including large bruises on her back and head, couldn’t be caused by falls.
Two days after Stepp called 911 to report that Ginny wasn’t breathing, she died at a hospital. Experts said a lack of oxygen to her brain caused Ginny’s death, and they theorized that someone must have smothered or strangled the toddler.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.