They beat the little girl for days until her fragile, bruised and swollen body finally gave up -- but the two women showed shock when a judge demanded the rest of their lives in return. Erica Mae Butts and Shanita Latrice Cunningham, both 25, each collapsed upon hearing that they would serve life in prison for killing 3-year-old Serenity Richardson, Butts' goddaughter, two years ago.
The sentencing hearing took nearly two hours and ended with court officials dragging Cunningham from the courtroom on a chair and peeling Butts from the floor as she writhed and screamed hysterically.
Butts' sister threw herself against a bench over and over, shouting, "No!" Her mother refused to leave the courtroom, screaming, "I can't leave my baby like this!"
Eventually, they all left -- with officials escorting out Cunningham's and Butts' supporters first, then leading Richardson's family and friends outside.
The two Summerville women, a couple at the time of their arrest, had made their pleas in August. Butts entered an Alford plea, meaning she maintained her innocence but acknowledged that taking her case to trial would likely result in a conviction. Cunningham pleaded guilty.
The court treats the two pleas the same, and each woman faced 20 years to life in prison on the charge of homicide by child abuse. The sentencing hearing took place Thursday to allow Serenity's family travel time from Michigan.
Serenity's mother, Ieshia Richardson, had been childhood best friends with Butts and had brought her daughter to stay at her godmother's home on Congaree River Drive in Summerville for about two weeks, beginning in late October 2009.
Butts admitted to Summerville police on Nov. 3 that she whipped the girl with a belt for urinating on the floor, and that Serenity had fallen several times in the bathroom.
When the child's breathing became shallow that day, Butts called her own mother in Goose Creek but didn't tell her what happened. Butts' mother called 911.
By the time paramedics reached Serenity, she was already dead but had been placed on ice and exposed to bleach in desperate attempts to revive her. Assistant Solicitor Elizabeth Gordon said the girl's injuries reflected weeks of torture -- a duration that matched the amount of time the child had spent with Butts and Cunningham.
"There was not a plane of her body that was spared, save the soles of her feet," Gordon said.
Circuit Judge Deadra Jefferson said the photos of Serenity's injuries showed a child "systematically beaten to death."
"I've never had anything affect me as profoundly as the pictures I've viewed of this child," Jefferson said. She noted that the women could have stopped, could have saved Serenity.
Jefferson also suggested that perhaps the women frightened the potty-trained child into urinating uncontrollably. The prosecutor noted that one pelvic injury likely caused Serenity to lose bladder control.
Cunningham's attorney, Cassandra Woosley, described her client as less responsible for the girl's death than Butts.
Tags: drama, queen, screaming, court, room, courtroom, judge, defendent, guilty, jail, life, in, prison, child, murderer, crime, cops, police, raw, video, criminal, wild, crazy
Location: Lansing, Michigan, United States (load item map)
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