A little more than four months removed from her murder trial where the jury was deadlocked on whether she intentionally killed her foster daughter, a Ringgold woman struck a plea deal to a lesser charge on Monday afternoon, June 27, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Sixty-year-old Clara Louise Edwards stood trial in February for the alleged murder of her 23-month-old foster daughter, Saharah Weatherspoon, on New Year’s Day 2014.
The jury found Edwards not guilty of malice murder, was deadlocked 10-2 on the felony murder charge, and found her guilty of first-degree cruelty to children.
Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit district attorney Herbert E. “Buzz” Franklin had already requested a retrial on the undecided murder charge, but all that was resolved Monday afternoon when a shackled Edwards entered Catoosa County Superior Court and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter in the child’s death.
Judge Ralph Van Pelt, Jr., per the recommendation of the plea deal by Franklin and Edwards’ attorney, Dan Ripper, combined the guilty plea with the guilty verdict on the child cruelty charge, and handed Edwards a 20-year sentence.
“I’ve talked to her about this being in her best interest to enter the plea,” Ripper said to the court. “She realizes a jury could find her guilty if retried.”
Three additional charges of child cruelty, which Edwards was indicted on following the trial, were also dismissed as part of the plea deal.
Franklin stated those three additional charges were part of a special presentment indictment, which was filed after the trial.
He said the charges came about after more witnesses came forward claiming additional abuse towards the child at the hands of Edwards.
Weatherspoon’s family was not in attendance during the sentencing, nor was any of Edwards’ camp that were mainstays during the trial.
Judge Van Pelt gave Edwards the option to speak about the case before he imposed the sentence, which she declined.
The charges against Edwards stem from an incident in the family’s Mallard Hill home on Dec. 29, 2013, when Edwards claimed the child hit her head several times. She said the child fell down the stairs that afternoon, but was later fine, and was then found unresponsive by her older brother later that evening.
The child was eventually taken to T.C. Thompson’s Children’s Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn., where surgery was performed. The child was taken off life support on New Year’s Day 2014.
During the trial, prosecutors claimed Edwards beat the child over time and eventually dished out fatal blunt force trauma to the little girl’s head.
Ripper argued that there wasn’t any abuse going on in the home, and that the child was prone to accidents and falling due to physical ailments and developmental issues.
Edwards did not take the stand in her own defense.
Franklin didn’t say when Edwards would be eligible for parole, but did say she might not have to serve the whole 20 years.
“It’s a 20-year sentence, but it is parolable,” he said.