COLUMBIA, SC — Judge Robert Hood on Wednesday sentenced the parents of a 4-year-old boy to life without parole after a jury found the pair guilty of homicide by child abuse and unlawful conduct toward a child.
Hood’s sentence came after a jury took around an hour to deliver its verdict on Courtney Thompson, 25, and Robert “Antonio” Guinyard Sr., 29, for killing their son after months of making his life what prosecutors called “a living hell.”
The jury verdicts and life sentences in the July 2013 death of Robert Guinyard Jr. came after a seven-day trial. During that time, the Richland County jury heard from more than 40 witnesses, including family members, friends and doctors, most testifying for the prosecution, some saying they had asked the state Department of Social Services to intervene, to no avail.
Following the trial, 5th Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson called the crime “brutal, horrific and sickening” and said, “The community has spoken.”
Thompson and Guinyard were “demons” who beat and starved little Robert to death, breaking his bones and hitting him repeatedly with a metal rod, 5th Circuit assistant prosecutor Luck Campbell told the jury earlier Wednesday afternoon.
“He was their punching bag,” Campbell said at the Richland County courthouse.
Thompson, angered over Robert’s inability to control his bowels, used a metal rod to whip him as her special method of “potty training,” Campbell told the jury as she brandished the long metal stick in court.
Such cruelty was not the only horror of Robert’s short life, Campbell said.
The S.C. Department of Social Services, which by law is supposed to intervene when receiving reports of child abuse, didn’t do its duty, Campbell told the jury.
“The system failed Robert,” Campbell said.
In the final months of Robert’s life, at least five relatives and others who knew of the boy’s plight repeatedly contacted the Department of Social Services and begged its workers to intervene and take the child out of an abusive situation, Campbell told the jury.
But DSS did nothing as Thompson and Guinyard repeatedly tortured Robert in his final months, Campbell said. The marks on Robert’s body were so horrific that the couple started not letting others see him, Campbell said.
Among the marks on Robert’s body when he died were two black eyes, witnesses said.
In testimony before a state Senate committee earlier this year, DSS director Lillian Koller acknowledged the agency’s failure to take action before Robert died. The agency is plagued by understaffing, not enough funding and mismanagement, critics say.
“The system must do more to prevent lives like Robert’s from being lost,” Koller told senators.
Eight DSS staffers involved in Robert’s case are no longer with the agency, she told senators. Koller’s situation, and Gov. Nikki Haley’s refusal to fire her over Robert’s and other child deaths, has become an issue in this year’s governor’s race.
Wednesday afternoon, Campbell spoke to the jury for more than an hour, reciting horror after horror that Thompson and Guinyard visited upon the boy, who at times was so thirsty that he drank from a household toilet and so hungry he ate out of a trash can, she said.
The parents “would grab him by the left arm, hold him to beat him, and (the arm) would be broken, who can say how many times? How painful is that?” Campbell asked the jury. The mother called him “Re,” for “retard,” she said.
“They counted on the fact that nobody would care about this child,” she said.
Robert’s body had cigarette burns on it, and he was beaten all over from head to legs with coat hangers and a metal rod, so many times that over time, he basically “bled out” internally at the end, Campbell said.
And while Robert was dying after being beaten a final time, on July 1, 2013, he cried out to the Lord to help because he knew his parents wouldn’t, Campbell said in a closing argument to the jury.
Testifying in his own defense, Guinyard Sr. told the jury that he loved his son and that his wife had beaten the little boy. Thompson, testifying in her own defense, admitted she was a bad mother.
But while she might be guilty of unlawful conduct toward a child, the jury shouldn’t find her guilty of homicide by child abuse, the mother said. She blamed the boy’s father.
The two, who are not married, were the primary caregivers for the boy and his three younger sisters, according to testimony.
Testimony indicated that Thompson was particularly hard on the boy, beating him after he kept on going to the bathroom on the floor. She testified that no one wanted to be around the boy because “he was always hurting himself.”
When Robert was 2 months old, DSS — which had received complaints — took him from Thompson and Guinyard and put him in foster care. There, the boy flourished, grew in a healthy manner and was getting therapy for a stutter, Campbell told the jury.
When the boy was 3 years old, Thompson and Guinyard successfully completed a DSS program to reunite families. DSS put Robert back in the care of his parents, who in the meantime had had other children.
But his parents failed to enroll him in pre-school programs, didn’t take him to therapy, didn’t feed him and beat him, Campbell said.
Any problems the boy had became severe because of the “hostile environment” he was living in – “a living hell,” she said.
“It was the ultimate betrayal,” Campbell said. “He was tortured by his own parents. ... Hold them responsible for their choices, their inhumane treatment,” she asked the jury.
The day Robert died, his mother had just come home from the hospital with a newborn baby girl, Campbell said. Campbell said Thompson told others she loved her three daughters but it would have been better if Robert had never been born.
During the mother’s time in jail before the trial, police recorded a phone call in which Thompson was heard telling her caller that she was going to sue DSS for $3 million because that agency should have intervened and put Robert into protective custody, Campbell said.
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department and coroner Gary Watts’ office investigated the crime. Doctors and the pathologist who examined the boy’s body provided testimony cited by Campbell in her argument.
DNA on a metal rod came from the boy’s blood, proving, Campbell said, the parents beat the boy with it.