KERSHAW COUNTY — A couple accused in a horrific child abuse case pleaded guilty for their treatment of a 4-year-old who barely survived broken bones, damaged internal organs and malnourishment.
Catharine Ammons, the child’s mother, and her then-live-in boyfriend, James Watson, pleaded guilty Tuesday to infliction of great bodily injury on a child and unlawful conduct on a child stemming from severe physical abuse, Sheriff Jim Matthews said.
Each received a 20-year-prison sentence. They will receive credit for time served after having been in jail without bond since their arrests in April 2012, Matthews said. They will be eligible for parole in May 2029, said Nicole Holland, a spokeswoman in the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.
As part of a plea deal, neither Ammons nor Watson admitted guilt but agreed they faced overwhelming evidence that would have resulted in a conviction, Matthews said.
It was a case that horrified the community because of the severe abuse the child suffered. People who were outraged over the actions of the mother and her boyfriend rallied around the child, sending toys, cards, balloons and other well wishes to her at the hospital.
Matthews visited the child at Palmetto Health Richland’s pediatric unit shortly after her parents were arrested.
“I was so impressed by the kindness the nurses showed her. Her bed was covered in stuffed animal toys,” Matthews said. “It was pitiful to see that little girl laying in the bed knowing what she had to go through for so long.”
Ammons and Watson were arrested after Ammons’ 4-year-old daughter was taken to Kershaw Health. The hospital’s medical staff determined that the child’s two broken arms, broken leg and lacerated liver were caused by abuse and called the sheriff’s department. The injuries were so old that doctors at first could not determine exactly when the abuse occurred.
Doctors eventually determined that she had a 3- to 4-week-old fracture in her left arm, a 2- to 3-week-old break in her right elbow, a week-old spiral fracture to her left leg and a severe bone infection in her right hip, said Nicole Holland, a spokeswoman for the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office.
At the couple’s 2012 bond hearing, sheriff’s investigators told a magistrate judge the 4-year-old was so badly malnourished that doctors were not able to perform surgery to repair the girl’s dislocated elbow. Her hair also was falling out.
The girl had lost 22 percent of her body weight, between March 15, 2012 and April 21, 2012, Holland said.
The child also had a broken leg and a broken wrist and bruises were found on the tops of her feet, her palms and behind her ears. At home, the child was walking by holding onto walls, but Ammons was forcing her to try to walk by herself, according to testimony at the time.
Sheriff’s investigators testified Ammons would hold the girl while Watson hit her.
Ammons told the magistrate that day, “I know if I had taken her place, I would have been in the hospital.”
The guilty plea came Tuesday just before a jury trial was set to start. The prosecution had lined up several medical experts to support sheriff’s investigators’ case.
Prosecutors would have shown dozens of pictures of the girls’ injuries, said Matthews, who reviewed some of the pictures in preparation for the trial.
“I was just abhorred by what I saw,” he said.
The mother’s actions were disturbing, Matthews said.
“The thing that was so troubling was the mother allowed this to take place,” he said. “I don’t know what goes through these people’s minds in these situations.”
The child spent five weeks at Palmetto Health and underwent five surgeries, Holland said. While there, she had to be taught how to eat again.
Since her release, she has been adopted by a family with other children. She no longer lives in South Carolina, Matthews said.
“It’s a very loving family,” Matthews said. “Hopefully, with a lot of prayer, love and care she will have a normal life.”
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.