‘Failed her horribly’: Plea puts Casey Parsons in prison for life in death of adopted daughter
By Shavonne Walker
SALISBURY — After a nearly two-hour hearing and an account of the horrendous treatment of Erica Lynn Parsons on Friday, her adoptive mother pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and related charges in the 13-year-old girl’s death.
Casey Parsons, 44, will spend the rest of her life in prison without the chance of parole.
Her husband, 45-year-old Sandy Parsons, remains in the Rowan County Detention Center awaiting trial on murder and other charges.
The Friday morning hearing came six years after Erica was reported missing by her adoptive brother, Jamie Parsons.
Casey Parsons arrived in the courtroom in a blue shirt and pants, instead of the jail-issued orange jumpsuit she has worn during previous court appearances. She sat flanked by her attorneys, Patricia Riddick, of Mooresville, and Robert Campbell, of Taylorsville.
She appeared emotionless throughout the proceedings as Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook read page after page for more than an hour from statements by the Parsonses, their children and other family members.
Casey Parsons was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on the murder charge, plus consecutive sentences on charges of felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury; felony concealment of death; and felony obstruction of justice. The sentences on the related charges, totaling 23 years, will be served at the expiration of her current federal sentence.
And she already is serving a 10-year federal prison sentence on charges of mail fraud, tax fraud and identity theft. Sandy Parsons is serving a seven-year federal prison sentence for the same offenses.
Casey’s parents, Shirley and James Stone, were in court as were her sisters, Tammy Gray and Robin Ashley; aunt, Angela Laubscher; and another relative.
Erica’s biological mother, Carolyn Parsons, also was in court as were others in the community who have followed the case.
On July 30, 2013, the couple’s son, Jamie Parsons, reported to Rowan County authorities that he had not seen his sister since December 2011. He spoke to law enforcement with his uncle, Scott Parsons, and recounted a series of disturbing incidents of abuse of Erica perpetrated by his parents, himself and his siblings — Brook, Sadie and Toby Parsons.
Jamie Parsons told investigators, when asked where Erica was, his parents told him they had dropped her off in Asheville to live with her biological grandmother, Irene Goodman. Jamie recalled that his father’s face was pale the day after Erica went missing. Scott Parsons told investigators that his brother gave him different accounts when he asked about Erica’s whereabouts.
In one instance, Jamie recalled that his mother placed Erica’s hand on a hot stove. He compared the many injuries to her back to those of Jesus.
Jamie also told detectives he “accidentally” broke Erica’s arm.
Brook Parsons told investigators that her mother made the children go to Walmart for first aid supplies to make a cast for Erica. Other family members noted in statements that Erica’s arm showed signs that it never healed properly.
On Friday reading from statements in court, Cook said, according to Jamie, his younger siblings were home-schooled, but their mother took all their online tests.
Over the prior five years, Casey and Sandy Parsons weaved a tale of deceit to not only their family but to law enforcement, Cook said. Sandy Parsons told authorities that although they were accepting adoption assistance and food stamps for Erica, they sent them to her caregiver.
Casey at one point made up a story that she talked to Irene “Nan” Goodman via Facebook and telephone until the woman stopped returning messages.
Casey also found a girl on Facebook with the same name as Erica and told the Rowan County Department of Social Services that she was their adopted daughter and she lived in Greensboro, Cook said. Investigators searched numerous databases looking for anyone with Erica’s Social Security number and anyone who might have obtained a driver’s license or other identification in Erica’s name, but they always came up empty.
According to Casey’s statements, Erica met her biological mother, Carolyn, at the What-a-Burger restaurant in Kannapolis in 2011. After the visit, according to Carolyn, Casey told her that Erica didn’t want to see her anymore.
Casey maintained that Jamie Parsons, in going to authorities about Erica, was trying to get back at her for kicking him out of the house after a violent fight between the two.
“My family is all lying. My mom told my kids to say all that stuff,” Casey told investigators.
But in May 2016, Brook Parsons, the couple’s oldest daughter, agreed to speak with FBI investigators. Before then, she had corroborated her parents’ statements. Brook told the FBI that her mother once made Erica stand outdoors on a sunny day with no shoes until the girl’s feet were blistered.
Brook told agents that Erica’s skin looked “black,” not normal and that she had open cuts on her body. In August 2016, Brook visited her father in federal prison, and he told her that he would help investigators find Erica.
In October 2016, Brook spoke with Rowan County sheriff’s Detective Chad Moose and told him Erica was made to stay in a closet most of the time. She said Erica looked weak.
It was at that point Moose reached out to Sandy Parsons in federal prison.
Sandy told the detective that his wife told him Erica committed suicide on Dec. 17, 2011. He said they placed the girl’s remains into plastic trash bags and a storage tote. They poured bleach over the lifeless body to disguise any smell and placed the tote aside. The family attended a holiday party later the same evening.
On Dec. 18, 2011, Sandy said he and his wife went to Pageland, South Carolina, and he dug a hole. They removed Erica’s remains from the storage container, and Casey took off her clothes and they buried her. He broke the tote into pieces and discarded it along with Erica’s clothing, he said.
According to Sandy, his wife instructed him to let her “handle the Nan story.”
In December 2016, Casey Parsons contacted Detective Moose to say she wanted to provide information. She admitted that she had once pushed Erica against a wall. Casey said she gave Erica aspirin. She said the girl told them that she wanted to die.
Casey said she later found Erica lying on a comforter on the living room floor. She rolled Erica over and the girl didn’t move. She said she and Sandy put Erica in a tote and Sandy told her to pour bleach over the remains. Casey’s debit card records showed that she purchased bleach on Dec. 5, 2011, at a Kannapolis Walmart.
Casey told Moose that in December 2016, Erica committed suicide by taking pills.
Casey admitted beating Erica with a belt buckle and bending her fingers back but said she did not break the girl’s fingers. Casey said she was scared to take Erica to a doctor because she feared her sister, Robin, would get Social Services involved.
Then, in 2018 statements, Casey said some of Erica’s fingers may have been broken. She also said Erica hanged herself in a closet using a dog leash.
On Friday, Carolyn Parsons walked out of the hearing briefly after hearing nearly an hour of statements about the gruesome treatment of her daughter.
A week before Erica’s disappearance, Erica told Casey she couldn’t breathe and, according to Jamie, she told the girl, “I don’t care; get back in the (expletive) corner.” Erica was gone two days later. Jamie told investigators Erica’s skin looked gray, her face was swollen and she had a bad smell. Jamie said his mother rarely let her bathe and the last week he saw her alive, she had open cuts on her body.
Autopsy reports note the girl likely had an infection.
Erica wasn’t allowed to sleep in a bed. In fact, she never had a bed.
“She slept on the floor, like a dog,” District Attorney Cook said in court Friday. “She was not allowed to eat unless Casey gave it to her.”
Erica was locked inside the closet; she ate dog and cat food and, on occasion, food from the trash can. Sadie, the youngest daughter, said she would sneak food to Erica. Erica would drink water from the bathroom sink and a dog bowl.
If Erica was given gifts, she was allowed to play with them as long as the gift giver was present. When the gift giver left, her gifts were given to either Sadie or Toby.
A 12-year-old Sadie told investigators that Erica was locked in a closet in her sister Brook’s room or in her mother’s bathroom. She said her mother once choked Erica to the point the girl couldn’t breathe. She said Erica was not usually treated for her injuries. She also noted that Erica smelled bad.
Robin Ashley, Casey’s sister, told officials that Erica called Sandy and Casey by their first names, never “mom” and “dad.”
In one statement read Friday by Cook, Sandy Parsons said that no one would ever find Erica and that his wife was “smarter than the FBI.”
Shirley Stone, Casey’s mother, told authorities the last time she saw Erica was around the holidays in 2011. Stone said she once saw Erica with a black eye and bruises on her bottom when she was 6. She said her daughter blamed Jamie for any injuries Erica received.
Stone said she and her husband, James, wondered if Casey was abusing Erica but later brushed off the notion. Stone noted that Erica’s hands were gnarled, which corroborates Jamie’s statements that his mother would bend Erica’s fingers back as a “friendly reminder” so the girl would not get out of line.
Autopsy reports show one of Erica’s fingers had been broken.
In her statement, Stone said she and her husband once saw Casey choke Erica. James Stone, Casey’s father, grabbed her arm and the couple “fussed” at their daughter but became upset and left.
Erica had a number of broken bones that included her jaw, shoulder blade and nose as well as broken teeth and rib fractures and fractures to the long bone of the upper arm, fingers and lower leg bone, according to the autopsy report. Erica also had fractures to her spine that were determined to have occurred at or near the time of death.
The medical examiner noted that before her death, Erica may have been suffering from an untreated infection or sepsis; kidney failure; and rhabdomyolysis, which is a breakdown of muscle tissue that releases a damaging protein into the blood. She also may have suffered from poisoning.
Examiners could not exclude terminal blunt force injury, suffocation or strangulation as causes of death. The final results were “homicidal violence of undetermined means.”
The shoulder blade fracture and rib fractures could have occurred seven to 10 days before her death and the broken nose about three to four months before she died, according to the report. Based on a medical definition used by medical examiners, Cook said, this was “child torture.”
“Casey Parsons took advantage of a position of trust as she was the adoptive parent,” Cook told the court.
Cook said, in weighing whether to proceed with a trial or accept a plea, all the parties considered that Casey Parsons could have tied up the appeals process for at least a decade.
She said this was a difficult investigation because law enforcement officers were not notified until nearly two years after the murder. Cook said investigators weren’t sure they’d get as much investigation as they have today.
Biological mother Carolyn Parsons stood before Superior Court Judge Julia Gullett Friday to say that she was grateful to those involved in the investigation and to the District Attorney’s Office.
“I gave Erica up for what I thought would be a better life. I didn’t have a steady home. I didn’t have a steady job,” she said.
Carolyn added that if she’d known then what she knows now, she would have just moved her daughter from place to place if she had to.
Carolyn said she’s lost her faith in family and will never trust again. She said she was abused as a child but that her daughter lived a life 10 times worse.
“I gave (Casey Parsons) a gift that millions of people would love to receive. I just want to know why, and I never will,” Carolyn said.
Cook on Friday thanked a number of people and agencies, including Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten and his investigators.
“The easy thing to do would have been to cave in to public pressure to immediately charge someone, which would have been irresponsible,” Cook said. “We must have the courage to have a voice for the voiceless.”
Sheriff Auten said the investigation was always about Erica.
“It never was about the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the SBI. No individual except Erica,” Auten said.
He said the case is about “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.”
He declined to say more because of the pending case against Sandy Parsons.
Detective Moose also thanked those who assisted in the investigation as well as the District Attorney’s Office. Moose said he also supported the decision to accept a plea arrangement.
Attorney Robert Campbell told the court that Casey Parsons had numerous medical problems growing up and as an adult. She underwent a number of surgeries and, because of that, developed an opioid dependency.
He described Casey as having a loving nature.
“This is the start of healing not only for her family but possibly for the community,” Campbell said.
On Friday, Casey stood and read from a prepared statement in court, admitting failure.
“I don’t know why I did the stuff I did. I’m very sorry,” she said.
“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,” Casey said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.
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