Erica Parsons’ adoptive dad to serve minimum of 33 years for murder, abuse, obstruction
By Shavonne Walker
SALISBURY — Sandy Parsons, the adoptive father of Erica Lynn Parsons, will serve a minimum of 33 years in prison for his role in her death.
On Tuesday, Sandy sat between his attorneys, Vincent Rabil and Tom King, wearing a suit and tie, unlike the orange Rowan County Jail-issued jumpsuit he’d worn in previous hearings, as he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, obstruction of justice, concealment of death and child abuse.
His plea comes four months after his wife, Casey Parsons, accepted a plea for her role in Erica’s death and was sentenced to life in prison without parole. His plea came exactly eight years after Erica’s death, though she was reported missing two years after her disappearance,
Both Sandy and Casey were facing the death penalty had they been convicted during a trial.
While Sandy accepted a lesser plea deal, Casey previously pleaded guilty to first-degree murder. Both are in the middle of serving federal prison sentences for mail fraud and other offenses for continuing to accept adoption assistance and other benefits while Erica was no longer in their care.
The Parsonses’ case started after their biological son, Jamie, reported to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office that he had not seen Erica since December 2011. Over the course of eight years, Jamie would reveal details of years of abuse and mistreatment against Erica at his hands and those of his parents.
Investigators discovered that Erica was most often mistreated by Casey Parsons, who would bend the girl’s fingers back as a “friendly reminder” so that Erica would not get out of line. Erica was made to live in a closet and never had a bed of her own.
The couple gave her little to eat. When she would sneak out of the closet, Erica ate from the trash can or dog food.
On what was likely the last night Erica was alive, the couple’s biological children said in statements that Erica looked pale and smelled because Casey rarely let her bathe. Erica complained that she couldn’t breathe.
Casey told her husband that Erica committed suicide. Both said the other poured bleach on the girl’s body to disguise the smell. Erica’s body was placed in garbage bags and a plastic tote and the couple waited up to two days before they disposed of her body.
Sandy and Casey drove to a rural area in Pageland, South Carolina, and buried Erica in a shallow grave. They would later tell family and law enforcement the 13-year-old went to live with her biological grandmother, Irene Goodman. Casey crafted a story that Goodman, whom they knew as Nan, took Erica in at her Asheville property.
Erica’s biological family, including her mother, Carolyn Parsons, said there was no Irene Goodman and that Erica’s grandmother, Cloie Goodman, had died years prior.
On Tuesday, Sandy was sentenced to 207 to 261 months for second-degree murder, which will be served at the expiration of his current federal sentence, of which he has three years left. He was ordered to serve 96 to 128 months for felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury to be served at the expiration of the second-degree murder sentence. He will serve 84 to 113 months for concealment of death to be served at the expiration of the child abuse charge. He will also serve 10 to 21 months in prison for obstruction of justice that he’ll serve at the expiration of the concealment of death charge.
The total prison sentence is 33.08 to 43.58 years. The earliest Sandy would be eligible for release from prison would be at the age of 82.
Sandy’s sentence issued Tuesday was not an agreed-upon plea between the involved parties; it was determined by Superior Court Judge Lynn Gullett.
A statement provided to the Post by Rowan District Attorney Brandy Cook said her office considered several factors in considering whether to move forward with a plea, including:
• The state’s evidence showing Casey is the more culpable party and was the primary person who committed repetitive, physically abusive acts and excessive punishment on Erica and that she is spending the rest of her life in prison.
• Sandy was eventually cooperative with law enforcement and agreed to lead law enforcement to Erica’s remains without any agreement by the the Rowan County District Attorney’s Office. Without Sandy’s cooperation, it is highly unlikely that Erica’s remains would have been located, Cook said. Any successful prosecution would have been extremely difficult, she said.
• After Sandy was indicted, he continued to cooperate with law enforcement and expressed a willingness to testify truthfully against the co-defendant, Casey, if asked to do so.
• Sandy worked outside of the home while Casey stayed at home with the children.
• The children of Sandy and Casey, who lived in the home with Erica, have also been significantly impacted. A plea, Cook said, helps prevent further traumatization of the children having to re-live events surrounding Erica’s death and potentially testifying against their own father in a murder trial.
• The plea helps alleviate an appeal process, which could on for decades.
• The plea, Cook said, was supported by Sheriff Kevin Auten, Capt. Tim Wyrick and Lt. Chad Moose, all of the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office, as well as Carolyn Parsons, Erica’s biological mother.
‘Loving, bonded relationship’
Rabil, Sandy’s attorney, read from letters Tuesday written by the Parsonses’ youngest children. In the letters, the children talked about how much they missed their father and loved him. The siblings also wrote letters to the judge saying their father never abused them. Sandy’s father and stepmother also wrote letters, which were shown to the judge but not read aloud in court.
Cook said the abuse of any of the other children was not an issue; the “serial abuse” of Erica was why they were in court.
Dr. Claudia Coleman, a psychologist, evaluated Sandy twice this year, Oct. 1 and Nov. 7, each time for up to three hours. She testified at the close of the nearly four-hour hearing.
Coleman told the court Sandy was physically and mentally abused by his stepfather, who has since died. Coleman said he stuttered as a child and had a learning disability, which led to bullying and taunting by classmates. She said it took him longer to learn.
Sandy didn’t do well in school and eventually dropped out, Coleman said.
Coleman said Sandy — whom, she said, was passive and had difficulty making decisions on his own — married Casey when he was 18. Coleman said Casey Parsons was dominant over her husband.
Casey threatened to take the children from him if he didn’t do what she wanted him to do, according to Coleman
“He had a loving, bonded relationship with his other children,” Coleman said.
Coleman said it was her opinion that Sandy expressed remorse and didn’t intend for Erica to die.
She said Sandy had anxiety, suffered from panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. He also attempted suicide on multiple occasions. She said Sandy had nightmares following Erica’s death and about burying her.
Coleman said Sandy told her he didn’t know the extent of abuse that Erica endured. But Cook said Sandy was able to see the extent of the abuse and even exacted some of that abuse.
Erica was denied medical treatment and Sandy was one of two adults in the home, Cook said.
Cook said Sandy is neither a hero nor a victim and deserved the maximum sentence allowed.
Carolyn Parsons, Erica’s biological mother, said that she “did what I thought was best for her” when giving her up for adoption.
Carolyn, who said she was also abused as a child, told the court she believed she was giving her child a better life than she had.
After the hearing, Carolyn expressed anger that at some point Sandy could see his children; she would never see Erica again.
“I used to love him. Now I hate him,” Carolyn said.
The difference between husband and wife is that Casey has life in prison and Sandy has a “possibility.”
Carolyn didn’t downplay Sandy’s role in Erica’s abuse, saying he had the opportunity to make his own decisions. And Carolyn said she felt like Sandy’s punishment was “a slap on the wrist.”
She said Sandy and Casey’s parents and other family members could’ve spoken up, but instead ignored the warning signs of abuse.
“What is normal about child abuse?” Carolyn asked.
Sandy Parsons, 46, expressed little emotion throughout much of the hearing until he read from his own prepared statement.
Sandy apologized and acknowledged that he failed Erica as a parent and called his son, Jamie, a hero.
“I am sorry from the bottom of my heart. 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,” Parsons said. “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.”
Parsons said he turned “a blind eye” to what Erica endured.
“I failed her as a dad. I also failed my other kids,” Parsons said.
He thanked Rowan Sheriff’s detective Chad Moose, Tara Cataldo of the FBI and everyone in the community who searched and prayed for Erica and had some connection to the investigation.
“Thanks for showing the love that she always wanted in her young life,” he said.
For previous stories written on the Parsons case, visit salisburypost.com/category/erica-parsons
Editor’s note: For the Post’s full story on the plea and sentencing, read “Erica Parsons’ adoptive dad to serve minimum... read more