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Couple jailed for 20 years for child abuse

Posted: November 1, 2013 6:55 p.m.
Updated: November 4, 2013 5:00 a.m.

A Lugoff couple will spend the next 20 years in jail after entering a special plea in connection with charges they severely abused a 4-year-old girl.

Catharine Ammons and James Watson both entered what is known as an Alford plea in Kershaw County General Sessions Court Oct. 29 to charges of inflicting great bodily injury on a child and unlawful conduct on a child. An Alford charge does not admit guilt, but acknowledges that a defendant faces overwhelming evidence that would have resulted in a conviction. Both defendants and the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office agreed to the plea and 20-year prison sentences.

The Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) arrested Ammons and Watson in April 2012 after KershawHealth officials determined that Ammons’ daughter -- known to the public as “Lizzy” -- suffered two broken arms, a broken leg and other injuries following several months of physical abuse. Watson and Ammons had been living together for about three to four weeks prior to their arrests.

During the couple’s 2012 bond hearing, testimony revealed that the couple took “Lizzy” to KershawHealth and told staff that the girl had fallen. Investigators alleged that Ammons and Watson coached the child to say that she “fell down a lot.” Hospital staff noted that the couple’s story was not consistent with the girl’s injuries and called deputies. Doctors could not perform immediate surgery on the girl’s broken elbow due to poor health, including low hemoglobin levels and calcified bones. “Lizzy” also had cysts on her pelvic region. Up until KershawHealth staff tended to the girl, many of her wounds had healed improperly, authorities reported during the bond hearing. Ammons told Kershaw County Chief Magistrate Rick Todd at her bond hearing that she hadn’t left the home she and Watson shared for a month, adding that she was afraid for her own life, so she let “Lizzy” take her place.

Ammons’ daughter spent a considerable amount of time in the pediatric intensive care unit at Palmetto Health Richland and has since been adopted by a family and is no longer living in South Carolina, according to a KCSO press release announcing the Oct. 29 sentencing.

The plea came as Watson and Ammons’ trial began, with much of the anticipated testimony coming from KCSO investigators and medical personnel who treated the little girl. A jury was drawn and medical experts were ready to testify. However, the last-minute plea agreement stopped the trial from moving forward.

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews called “Lizzy’s” case a tragic incident that captured the hearts of many Kershaw County citizens who held fund raisers and brought toys to her while she was in the hospital. Matthews said many people wanted to help out in some way and the community came out in support of the little girl.

“Hopefully ‘Lizzy’ can heal both physically and emotionally from this horror,” Matthews said in the press release. “She is now with a loving family and from all accounts is doing well. Ammons and Watson can never really pay for what they did to that little girl. I am relieved that they are going to serve long prison sentences.”

Watson’s previous criminal record included charges dating back to 2003 for stalking, public disorderly conduct, racing on a public road, giving alcohol to a minor and harassment.

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