ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - Almost exactly six years to the day she was reported missing, Erica Parsons adoptive mother, Casey Parsons, has pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse in Erica’s death.
“I don’t know why I did the stuff I did, I’m very sorry," Casey Parsons said in court. "God gave me a precious gift, a baby girl, Erica, and he entrusted me to take care of her and I failed him and I failed Erica, I failed her horribly.”
The plea was announced on Friday morning in Rowan County Superior Court. Parsons will spend the rest of her life in prison.
She pled guilty as charged and was sentenced to every day in prison that she legally can be, which is life without the possibility of parole, plus additional consecutive sentences totaling approximately 23 years, and these sentences will be served at the expiration of her current federal sentence, according to Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook.
“All agencies began this investigation with a common goal: to find Erica and to find the truth. This has been a difficult investigation in that law enforcement was not notified until a year and half after the crimes were committed. And as your Honor is aware, this delay typically delays law enforcement’s ability to collect evidence," said Cook. “The easy thing to do would have been to cave in to public pressure to immediately charge someone which would have been irresponsible.”
Birthday and Christmas gifts given to Erica were taken away and given to other kids, according to testimony shared Friday. Erica also drank from a dog bowl and slept on a closet floor. Jamie Parsons, Erica’s adoptive brother, said Casey would put Erica’s hand on a hot stove, and beat her so badly that her back “looked like Jesus’ back."
Casey is also accused of cutting Erica’s fingers open and pouring iodine on them to avoid going to the doctor.
On July 30, 2013, Jamie Parsons went to the Rowan Sheriff’s Office to report that Erica had been missing from the family home on Miller Chapel Road since sometime in November or December of 2011.
Jamie Parsons had been in a physical altercation with his parents, Sandy and Casey Parsons, and said they had kicked him out of the house.
That incident began a six year odyssey that included a national television appearance on the Dr. Phil Show for Sandy and Casey, as well as the involvement of dozens of law enforcement officers from the local, state, and federal level conducting extensive property searches and hundreds of interviews.
From the beginning, investigators said that Casey and Sandy were lying about what happened to Erica. According to Casey, the teen had gone to live with her paternal grandmother “Nan” in Asheville.
“What did police say when they showed up? That we had killed Erica and buried her in our backyard," Casey Parsons said in an interview with WBTV soon after Erica was reported missing. “It’s been a year and half, why didn’t you call police? Because she’s not missing. She’s at Nan’s house and the last time we talked to Erica in February 2012 she was fine.”
That story was soon discredited when no one could locate the mysterious Nan.
In 2014 both Casey and Sandy were convicted in federal court of keeping federal adoption assistance money after Erica had disappeared from their home. Casey Parsons was sentenced to 10 years in prison, Sandy to 8 years.
Testimony at the fraud trial unveiled a pattern of abusing Erica, who was adopted and lived with the family from 2000 until she disappeared in 2011.
Those witnesses included a woman who says she hired Casey to be a surrogate mother and deliver her baby. Casey claimed she miscarried the child. She later successfully delivered the baby and tried to sell the child to her sister, Robin Ashley, for $10,000.
Ashley took the stand saying that Casey beat Erica and made her stand in the corner often. Pictures were shown of Erica standing in that corner on five different occasions.
Ashley said she saw bruises and marks on Erica. Casey gave Erica to Ashley to look after for a few months so that she “wouldn’t kill her,” Ashley said. Adding that Casey “couldn’t stand the sight of her face.” Ashley said her sister told her she had lost control and assaulted Erica.
Sandy Parsons has allegedly admitted his “harsh treatment” of the girl, including beating her with a belt, bending her fingers backward, locking her in a closet and choking her. According to the warrant, UNC School of Medicine Dr. Cynthia Brown called the abuse “child torture.”
In one of the most disturbing testimonies, Casey and Sandy’s son, Jamie, claimed that he, his sister, and both of his parents would routinely abuse Erica.
His testimony included claims that Casey bent Erica’s fingers backwards so far that they broke. He said Erica was not given access to a bathroom, and when Casey found out that Erica had relieved herself she would be beaten. He also said food was often withheld from Erica and she was forced to eat dog food out of a can.
The night Jamie last saw Erica, in late 2011, he says she was standing in the corner being punished.
"She looked like a zombie," he said in court. He said her face was pale white and she told him that she "didn't feel good, couldn't breathe too good."
When Erica told Casey that she didn't feel well, she reportedly told Erica to "shut the [expletive] up" and Jamie went to bed, he testified.
The next morning, he says Casey and Sandy weren't home when he woke up. They didn't return until later in the day and when they did, Jamie says, Sandy looked sick, "like he was about to throw up," and didn't talk. Casey looked normal, he said.
Jamie says when he asked Casey where Erica was, she told him they took her to her grandmother’s house.
In 2016 human remains thought to be those of Erica Parsons were found in the Pageland Mount Croghan area of Chesterfield County, SC, on land owned by members of the Parsons family..
According to a release from the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, they, along with the FBI, obtained leads in August of 2016 that Erica was “more than likely deceased.” On September 27, the release states, the remains were located. They were then sent to the NC Medical Examiner’s Office and were identified as the young girl.
“That day in South Carolina was tough on all of us,” Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said in announcing the charges. “I saw some pretty tough cops take it pretty rough.”
Law enforcement officials said Sandy Persons led them to the site where Erica’s remains were found and was crying when he got back in the police car.
In 2017 a funeral was held at First Baptist Church in Salisbury for Erica Parsons.
“This is such a tragic story. Our community, our law enforcement, they need closure. They need to say that this life mattered though most of us never met Erica Parsons," said Dr. Kenneth Lance, who as pastor of First Baptist, officiated at the service. “We have a responsibility to protect and make sure that they flourish and she’s a symbol of that and a reminder of our responsibility as a community to do just that.”
In 2018 the Medical Examiner’s office released Erica’s autopsy. The autopsy states that "fractures documented at autopsy are consistent with multiple blunt force injuries over a prolonged period, and the growth deficit and low bone density are consistent with malnourishment. The description of the decedent just prior to her disappearance suggests she may have been the suffering from untreated infection/sepsis, rhabdomyolysis, renal failure, or poisoning at that time, all of which could have caused her death."
The autopsy goes on to state that “Given the history of physical abuse, and signs of physical abuse present at autopsy, we cannot exclude the possibility of a terminal blunt force injury, suffocation or strangulation.”
In March of 2018 Casey and Sandy Parsons were charged with Erica’s murder. Casey Parsons was originally charged with first degree murder, felony child abuse inflicting serious injury, felony concealment of death and felony obstruction of justice.
“There’s people that think the Parsons should have already been hung on the square,” Auten said. “But they’ll have their day in court. We’ll let a jury decide their fate.”
Sandy Parsons is facing charges of first degree murder, child abuse, felony concealment of death and felony obstruction of justice. He remains in the Rowan County Detention Center.
Carolyn Parsons thanked the investigators who played a role in the case, mentioning Rowan Sheriff’s detective Lt. Chad Moose, Sheriff Auten, and the prosecutors. She also said she was satisfied with the plea agreement.
“Her life in prison, living, will be worse than any death sentence she could ever get," Carolyn Parsons said.
Following the hearing on Friday, Sheriff Auten said the agreement was in the best interest of the case.
“It never was about the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the US Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the SBI,..no individual except Erica,” Auten said. "This whole case abut Erica and the best amount of justice we could find for Erica and get this case to a resolution. I publicly state that we support this plea decision and think this is the best resolution possible in this case.