The man who abducted a 4-year-old girl from her Johns Island home last February and brutally assaulted her mother, leaving her for dead, was sentenced to three consecutive life terms, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
As he sentenced Thomas Lawton Evans, the judge looked past him, referring to him as a “soulless, sorry excuse for human being.”
In September, Evans pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Charleston to charges of kidnapping, transportation of a minor to engage in sexual activity, and aggravated sexual abuse.
It took less than an hour for the girl’s parents to recount the countless ways their lives changed on Feb. 13, 2018 — the day Evans followed the mother as she dropped her other children off for school before returning to her Johns Island home.
The mother told investigators she heard footsteps behind her before Evans, 37, repeatedly bashed her head into the hardwood floors, tied her up and sexually assaulted her and put the girl, now 5 — who he found hiding in an upstairs bedroom — in the trunk of a car and drove to Alabama.
The child was found the next day by railroad workers in a parked car with Evans who was asleep. She was dressed in what appeared to be adult clothing, prosecutors said. Her mother told the court the injuries her daughter suffered during the sexual assault were so severe that the young girl required surgery.
The Post and Courier is not identifying the young girl or her family since the woman and her daughter are survivors of sexual assault.
In court, the father said he wanted to forgive Evans, who was sitting silently behind him in the courtroom, but Tuesday, he told Judge David Norton, was not that day.
“I have fantasized about doing things to Mr. Evans that would make horror movie directors blush,” the father said before a packed courtroom. When he looked himself in the mirror, the man continued, “I see someone who is daily fighting to not be consumed by hatred.”
The father turned around and looked directly at Evans.
“Though I am not in a place to forgive you, that is my goal, Mr. Evans,” the father said, before walking back to the bench where his wife was seated, kissing the top of her head.
'The single worst act'
Evans told authorities he chose this family because they represented what he called "the perfect family." At the time of the attack, the father of the young girl was out of state on a training exercise for his job with the Coast Guard.
Clutching her Bible and a tattoo of Rosie the Riveter peeking out from one of her dress sleeves, the mother rose from her seat in the courtroom and stood before the judge. She got the tattoo after the attack, her husband had said during his testimony, as a symbol of resiliency.
“I will always remember the feeling of my skull hitting the hardwood floor, the feeling of the knife on my jugular,” she said. She told the courtroom that her body is still recovering after repeated surgeries. She said she still experiences numbness in her face and jaw, soreness in her eyes and still can’t wear contacts.
“I will never get back what I lost,” she said, "but I am choosing to live now.”
The mother turned to Evans and opened her Bible.
“My prayer for you, Thomas, through all of this, is you will be able to release yourself from the crime committed against us, just as I have.”
While Evans did not speak at his sentencing, his attorney, federal public defender Ann Walsh, said her client “instructed me to say he is stunned and overwhelmed by the words of these victims. No words ... could cause them any relief or make them feel any better.”
Evans remained silent and rose from his seat to stand before the judge.
“I’ve been doing this 29 years, and this is the single worst act I’ve ever seen,” Norton said to Evans. “A man without a conscience ... who terrified a family and a 4-year-old girl.”
A handful of U.S. marshals surrounded Evans.
“Get him out of here,” the judge ordered.
Another victim still missing
After court Tuesday, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who attended the sentencing, said the state’s case against Evans will proceed.
Evans also faces state charges for kidnapping, attempted murder, first-degree criminal sexual conduct, armed robbery, first-degree burglary and weapon possession in connection with the home invasion.
In addition, federal authorities have been searching for Evans’ girlfriend Sharon Nannette Hayden, 39, of Spartanburg, who is presumed dead. Evans was staying with Hayden after his release from state prison in early February 2018.
A federal prosecutor told a judge at Evans' plea hearing last year that Evans told FBI agents he stabbed Hayden after an argument and watched her collapse in a wooded area before he fled to the Charleston area. Once he arrived here, he saw a Johns Island mother dropping her children off at school.