CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Sarah Toney, the woman accused of taking her 5-month-old daughter into a Socastee creek and allowing her to drown, pleaded guilty to the crime Wednesday.
The body of 5-month-old Grace Carlson Santa Cruz, deemed “Baby Grace” by the community that came together to search for and honor the infant, was discovered in the Socastee creek off of Shem Creek Circle November 5, 2015, according to Horry County Police. It was later discovered that Toney, Baby Grace’s mother, took the infant into a creek behind Socastee homes on Simms Drive and lost the baby in the rushing water.
In an Horry County courtroom Wednesday afternoon, Toney entered a guilty plea for homicide by child abuse, which comes with a mandatory minimum 20 years in prison. Honorable Circuit Court Judge Steven H. John accepted Toney’s plea.
“By her actions she ended the life of a five month old child, Grace,” said Judge John during the guilty plea phase of the hearing. John also said he believes Toney had the capacity to decide right from wrong at the time of taking Baby Grace into the water.
“Hers is a life long history of drug use resulting in the death of a child,” said Deputy Solicitor Scott R. Hixson, who prosecuted the case on behalf of the 15th Circuit Solicitor’s Office. “In this case, we appreciate the long hours and dedication of law enforcement and first-responders of Horry County to bring justice to this little baby.”
During the hearing, Medical University of South Carolina Forensic Phycologist Emily Gottfried spoke on her evaluation of Toney’s mental capacity. Dr. Gottfried testified that she met with Toney on May 23, 2016, and through a three hour interview, assessed that Toney was competent to stand trial and should be held criminally responsible.
“The first question was whether or not she was competent before I evaluated criminal responsibility,” said Dr. Gottfried. “And I found her to be competent.”
Dr. Gottfried testified that Toney’s toxicology report revealed use of numerous drugs, including methamphetamines and opioids.
“Per her own report, she was using substances approximately 3 days before the alleged offenses” added Dr. Gottfried.
While sitting behind a table at the hearing, Toney could be heard saying, “I miss her so much.” Toney’s attorney, Eric Fox, explained to the court that Toney’s family history includes alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, and suicide – all of which led to Toney’s own drug problems.
When asked why the State did not offer a lesser sentence to Toney for a guilty plea, Hixson said she “did not deserve it.”
‘There’s nobody in that courtroom fighting for that baby,” said Hixon. “I’m the only one right now. You noticed on our side baby’s mom and dad aren’t over there. Somebody’s gotta fight for that kid. She deserves something for what happened to her.”
Sarah Lane Toney, 34, of Conway, was sentenced to 27 years in prison for killing Baby Grace.