Andrea Person took the witness stand Thursday and told the jury that Richland County sheriff's deputies bullied her into falsely confessing she killed 1-year-old Zachary Ulengchong at her day-care center.
"I answered that question over and over again - I did not hurt Zachary," Person said about the first part of a three-hour session with sheriff's investigators.
As time went on, detectives wore her down, she testified, making threatening moves and insisting she agree with them that she killed little Zachary - even providing her with a step-by-step description of how she supposedly smothered the baby to death.
"He (the detective) wouldn't accept no for an answer," said Person, 40. "He would run his hands on his head. ... he was making a fist (and said), 'Something had to have happened, something had to have happened, this is not making sense.'"
Person's lawyer, Fielding Pringle asked her: "How are you feeling at that point?"
"I'm scared. I'm intimidated. I'm crying," Person said. "I want to go home."
Person's testimony on the third day of her trial on charges of homicide by child abuse goes to the trial's key questions:
Why would she confess to investigators if she didn't do it? Was she lying when she signed the 2007 confession, or when she swore under oath Thursday that she loved little Zachary and would never have hurt him?
The 12 jurors - who could get the case as early as this afternoon - watched intently as she answered question after question, first from her lawyer, then from 5th Circuit Solicitor Barney Giese, who was out to prove not only was she a liar, but a killer.
"After your rights were read to you, you knew at any time, you could stop answering questions?" Giese asked, referring to her 2007 interrogation and confession.
"Yes, sir," Person replied.
Giese: "When Officer White started beating his hands on the table, you knew you could have gotten up and left?"
Person: "Yes, sir."
Out of the jury's presence, Giese had tried but failed to put before the jury that Person is charged with the deaths of two other children who stayed at her day-care center: the 2001 death of 4-month-old Elijah Brown, and the 2007 death of 2-month-old Michael Walker. Michael's death triggered investigations into the two earlier deaths.
But Judge Alison Lee ruled Giese had failed to prove special circumstances that would allow him to tell the jury about the other charges.
Person's lawyer led her through two difficult scenarios: the day Zachary died, and the day, nine years later, that she confessed.
In more than an hour on the witness stand, Person insisted, sometimes tearfully, that she loved little Zachary, had taken good care of him and was good friends with the baby's family.
But she showed the most emotion when Pringle asked her about an afternoon in April 2007. That was when she underwent a three-hour interrogation at the Richland County Sheriff's Department, during which she says investigators talked her into confessing she killed Zachary.
Zachary, she confessed at the time, had a cold and had been fussing. To quiet him, she put her hand over his face until he went limp, she said.
Person testified that at the sheriff's office, Lt. Jimmy White, Sgt. Kevin Isenhoward and Chief Deputy David Wilson first begged her to help them.
Then she said they told her stories of other adults who had killed children by accident, suggested she killed Zachary by placing her hand over his face, and finally persuading her to sign a detailed confession and write a letter to Zachary's family saying she was sorry for killing their son, Person testified.
Worn down, she testified, she wrote the letter and signed a confession.
"Why?" asked Pringle.
"I thought that if I just helped, and I could give them (detectives) something that would give closure to this family, I could go home. I was desperate to go home," Person said.
Pringle also asked Person why she felt so bad about Zachary's death.
"Because I loved him," Person said, her voice breaking. "He was my boy too. ... He died while he was in my care, and because of that, I felt responsible."
The trial is expected to resume at 10:30 a.m. today. The defense is expected to put on an expert in false confessions.