Two South Carolina women collapsed in court moments after learning they would spend the rest of their lives in prison for the beating death of a 3-year-old girl left in their care.
Erica Mae Butts and her lesbian lover Shanita Latrice Cunningham, both 25, were charged with homicide by child abuse in the death of 3-year-old Serenity Richardson, who died in their care on Nov. 3, 2009. They each received a life sentence from a Charleston Judge on Thursday.
The two women collapsed in hysterics as the screams of their family members pierced the courtroom. The defendants were wheeled from court by Charleston County Courthouse officials. Butts's mother was forcibly removed from the courtroom after attempting to reach Erica who sat on the floor hyperventilating and moaning.
In 2009, Butts told police that she whipped the little girl multiple times with a belt after the child urinated on the floor. Butts said Serenity hit her head more than once while falling in the bathroom, the affidavit says.
The autopsy report shows the girl died from multiple, full-body trauma, including bruises on her head, chest, back, legs, arms and abdominal area.
"It is nearly impossible for words to accurately describe what these women did to that poor little girl," said Elizabeth Gordon, assistant managing solicitor for Charleston County.
"They beat her repeatedly both with a belt and with plastic coat hangers. You can see the outlines of the strikes on this child's body. There is not one area of this child's body that was unharmed except for the soles of her feet."
Serenity's mother, Iesha Richardson, said she left her daughter in the women's care for two weeks while she moved from Detroit to the Summerville area. Butts was Serenity's Godmother and Richardson's best friend.
"The explanation they gave (for the beatings) was that Serenity had a potty accident," Gordon said. "Their explanation is 'we didn't know what we did would kill her.'"