The third day of the trial for a Ringgold foster mother accused of murdering a toddler in 2014 dug a little deeper on Wednesday, Feb. 11, as the jury watched a video interview of the woman’s account of how the child sustained her fatal head injuries.
The defendant, Clara Louise Edwards, is accused of murder in the death of 2-year-old Saharah Weatherspoon, who was injured at the family’s Mallard Hill home between Dec. 29 and 30, 2013. The child died on New Year’s Day 2014 after being taken off life support.
On the second day of her trial, day-care workers describe Saharah as a sad, withdrawn child.
Edwards claimed Saharah fell down a flight of stairs but was later fine, before hitting her head on a piece of furniture later that evening and being found unresponsive.
Edwards was indicted on the charge that she physically caused injuries and murdered the child. She’s facing charges of felony murder, malice murder, and cruelty to children.
Edwards is being defended by attorney Dan Ripper of Chattanooga, Tenn., while the case is being prosecuted by Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit district attorney Herbert E. “Buzz” Franklin and assistant DA Alan Norton.
Wednesday’s testimony included investigators in the case discussing the last couple of days of Saharah’s life.
GBI special agent Dan Simms showed the court the layout of the Edwards home. The Catoosa County Sheriff’s Department’s lead investigator discussed how the case began, and played the jury Edwards’ taped interview from Dec. 30, 2013, the day the child was taken to T.C. Thompson’s Children’s Hospital in Chattanooga.
In an approximate hour-and-twenty-minute-long interview, Roden and GBI agent April Wells asked Edwards to walk them through the day of Dec. 29 and 30, 2013, specifically the child’s alleged fall and eventual trip to the hospital.
Edwards said she got up about 9 a.m. that Sunday, went to church, and was home alone with the kids that afternoon when her husband went to work.
Around 3:30 p.m. Edwards said Saharah was playing with a ball at the top of the stairway in the home.
“The ball rolled down the steps and I heard a boom, boom, boom,” Edwards said. “I got her and stood her up, and I told her that’s what you get for going down them steps.”
Edwards said the child continued walking around, but also stumbled a bit.
About an hour-and-a-half later, Edwards says, she let Saharah take a nap. She said the baby began napping between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. and was awakened about 7 p.m.
“I just let her get a little nap in,” Edwards said.
After that is when Edwards says things started happening that she really didn’t have a lot of answers for.
At 9 p.m., Edwards said, she began watching her favorite TV program while Saharah and her 6-year-old brother Elijah were playing in the next room.
Towards the end of the show, she told Roden and Wells that Elijah wandered in the room concerned about Saharah.
“Sissy fell down and I can’t get her up,” Edwards recalled Elijah saying.
Edwards says she then found Saharah lying on some toys next to a chifforobe, a piece of furniture that houses clothing.
“I scooped her up and she made a little sound, straightened her body out, and then went limp,” Edwards said. “I kept trying to wake her up.”
Edwards claimed she tried to wake up Saharah by putting a cold washcloth on her and throwing water in her face.
“I put a cold rag on her face, but that didn’t arouse her,” she said. “It was a blur. I panicked. She wasn’t coming around, so I told Elijah to put his shoes and socks on.”
Edwards husband was coming home from work early and met the trio near the home. He eventually rushed them all to the Chattanooga hospital where Edwards claims she finally broke down.
“We got there, and at that point, I just lost it,” Edwards said.
Investigators asked if she shook the child to try to get her to wake up, which might have explained some of the bruising discovered on the child’s arms and body.
“I shook her arms slightly, saying, memaw get up … memaw get up,” Edwards said. “I know about shaking babies, and I wouldn’t have done that. I held her tight, but it wasn’t like I was shaking pancake mix.”
One of the most interesting comments made during the interview is Edwards telling investigators that she contemplated getting the child a helmet weeks and even months earlier due to her clumsiness and potential to fall often.
“She was just a faller-downer,” Edwards said. “In October, I thought … maybe she needs a helmet. I talked to the people at Omni Visions, but they said they didn’t think it was necessary.”
Omni Visions is the foster care placement service that helped put the children in the Edwards’ home.
“I should have just got the helmet myself,” Edwards said.
When asked what she thought happened while the kids were playing, Edwards stated she believed Saharah hit her head on the sharp corner of the chifforobe.
She said the family has a baby gate for the staircase, but that it wasn’t in use because it was “too flimsy.”
Like Norton and Franklin had done with other witness testimony, Roden in the video suggested that Edwards and Saharah didn’t always have the best relationship.
“We get along good,” Edwards said. “I’m the nurturer.”
Edwards also shot down the theory that maybe she got mad at the child and overreacted towards her.
“She’s two years old. … What kind of tantrum could she throw that would make me hurt her?” Edwards asked. “I wouldn’t hurt her. I did not injure this child. I kept saying to myself, how in the hell can this happen? My heart weeps for that baby. … I’m important to her and she’s important to me.”
The trial resumed Friday at 9 a.m.