ROWAN COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV) - The marker on the grave of Erica Parsons lists the date of her death as December 17, 2011. On December 17, 2019, her adoptive father pleaded guilty in the case, ending eight years of speculation, denials, and determined work by investigators.
Sandy Parsons, the adoptive father of Erica Parsons, pleaded guilty in Rowan County Criminal Superior Court on Tuesday. He was sentenced to serve between 33 and 43.5 years in prison on the charges, which included murder, child abuse, concealment of death and obstruction of justice.
Parsons, 46, offered an apology in court.
“I am sorry from the bottom of my heart,” Parsons said. “To my kids, to my family, to Jamie, he will always be a hero...to Brooklyn, Sadie, and Toby, I am sorry. To my dad and mom and stepmom, I’m sorry that I let you down. Thanks for standing behind me and helping me with my kids and grand kids. Most of all I’m sorry to Erica, as I do every night before I close my eyes. People may forgive me, I know God has, but I will never forgive myself. It makes me sick to my stomach to know what I know now what my daughter Erica went through, because a dad is there to care and to keep his children safe and to love them. I turned a blind eye as to what Erica was going through and I failed her as a dad. I also failed my other kids. I want to say thanks to Chad Moose, Rowan County detective and to Tara with the FBI. I also want to thank everybody in my community who looked for Erica and who worked on this case, and all the people in this community that prayed for her. Thanks for showing the love that she always wanted in her young life."
Parsons also thanks his lawyers, as well as Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook “and all of her team.”
By the judge’s sentence, the earliest that Sandy Parsons would be eligible for release from prison, would be when he is approximately 82 years of age.
Erica’s adoptive mother, Casey Parsons, pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse in August, and is serving a life prison term in addition to a federal sentence on a fraud conviction, and an additional 23 years.
The case began for investigators on July 30, 2013, when Erica’s adoptive brother 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, the biological son of Sandy and Casey Parsons, had been in a physical altercation with his parents 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.
In August, 2013, Sandy Parsons told WBTV that he knew Erica was still alive.
“There’s been sightings, I’ve had family members call me recently and say there was a sighting at a rest stop, we asked, why didn’t you call the cops, don''t wait an call us, call the cops," Parsons said. “The only thing I want right now is Erica to call home, tell us she’s safe, and get my two babies. Nobody realizes that there’s two small kids involved in this that do want to come home.”
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.
Federal prosecutors also said at that time that the evidence indicated that Erica Parsons was dead.
The biggest break in the case came in 2016 while Casey and Sandy Parsons were both serving federal prison sentences. Sandy Parsons told investigators that he would lead them to where Erica was buried.
Sandy Parsons, under the watchful eye of prison guards, was taken out of prison and driven to property near to a house owned by his family in Chesterfield County, SC, where he pointed to a shallow grave in a heavily wooded area off Blair Hendrix Rd, in between the towns of Pageland and Mount Croghan.
“The guards that were with him took him into the woods and within a minute they were coming back out, and he was crying when he came back out,” Chesterfield County Sheriff Jay Brooks said at the time.
A cadaver dog indicated on the spot where Erica Parson’s body was discovered, Brooks said. Within 30 to 45 minutes, investigators began finding evidence. Bones were recovered at the scene. The North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office positively identified the remains as Erica Parsons.
Court testimony in the fraud trials, as well as the plea hearings for both Sandy and Casey Parsons, painted a picture of Erica Parsons life as being filled with torture and abuse at the hands of her caregivers.
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 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.
The Rowan County District Attorney’s Office provided the following information about the plea agreement that was reached on Tuesday:
In weighing whether or not to move forward with this particular disposition for this defendant, we thoroughly considered several factors, including that:
- Casey Parsons, who by the State’s own evidence, is the more culpable party and was the primary person who committed the repetitive physically abusive acts and excessive punishment on Erica, is spending the rest of her life in prison plus an additional 23 years.
- This defendant was eventually cooperative with law enforcement and agreed to lead law enforcement to Erica’s remains without any agreement by my office. Without this defendant’s cooperation, it is highly unlikely that Erica’s remains would have been located and any successful prosecution would have been extremely difficult.
- After this defendant was indicted, he continued to cooperate with law enforcement and expressed a willingness to testify truthfully against the co-defendant, if asked to do so.
- This defendant worked outside of the home while the co-defendant stayed at home with the children.
- The children who lived in the home with Erica have also been significantly impacted. This disposition helps prevent further traumatization of these children having to re-live the events surrounding Erica’s death, and potentially testifying against their own father in a murder trial.
- This disposition helps alleviates a potential appeal process which can carry on in cases for decades, which no one directly involved in this case wants.
- This disposition is supported by Sheriff Kevin Auten, Captain Tim Wyrick, Lt. Chad Moose of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, and Carolyn Parsons.
Dr. Claudia Coleman, a psychologist who examined Sandy Parsons several times after his arrest, was called by attorneys for Parsons to testify. Coleman said that Sandy Parsons had been abused mentally and physically as a child by his stepfather.
Dr. Coleman also said that Parsons suffered from a dependent personality disorder in which he was controlled by his wife Casey. Parsons attempted suicide several times, Coleman said, and suffers now from PTSD. He has nightmares and visions about burying Erica, Coleman added.
“Sandy Parsons role was substantially less than that of Casey Parsons,” attorney Vince Rabil said. “There is absolutely no evidence he intended for her (Erica) to die.”
Carolyn Parsons, the biological mother of Erica Parsons, was hoping that Sandy would get more prison time.
“I used to love him. Now I hate him,” Carolyn said, calling his punishment a “slap on the wrist.”