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Woman guilty in child's scalding death
Life sentence handed down for stepdaughter's death
Erica Brennan sits in the courtroom of the Long County Courthouse during her trial. - photo by Photo by Mike Riddle
Erica Brennan was found guilty by a Long County jury Wednesday in the July 2007 scalding death of her 8-year-old stepdaughter, Sarah H. Harris. The jury of seven women and five men took approximately two hours to deliver the verdict after two days of testimony.
Defense attorney Jerry Word began the second day of trial by building a defense around the theory that Brennan could not have killed Harris without burning her own hands in a tub of scalding water as she allegedly pinned down her stepdaughter. The defense also brought in two expert witnesses to testify that the hot-water heater in Brennan’s home had not been working properly at the time of the incident. The experts said they thought the appliance likely heated the water to a temperature of about 150 degrees, resulting in the child being accidentally burned while she was taking a bath. Brennan’s husband, once a Fort Stewart-based soldier, was in Iraq at the time of the incident.
During his closing argument, Word maintained Brennan hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary on the day of Harris’ death. He said if she was guilty, in the span of 10 minutes, Brennan would have gone from being completely calm, to growing enraged and burning Harris, to calling her friend on the phone out of concern. Word also told jurors that if they were “wavering, unsettled or unsatisfied” about Brennan’s guilt, it was their duty to acquit the defendant.
Lead prosecuting attorney Tom Durden countered during his closing statements, saying it is the prosecution’s task to prove Brennan is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt, but the state is not required to prove guilt beyond all doubt.” The DA also said no one could dispute that Harris died after she was scalded, and the only person in the home who could have forcibly held the girl in a tub of hot water was Brennan.
After closing remarks, the jury began deliberations and emerged after finding the defendant guilty of four of the five counts levied against her.     Brennan was found guilty of felony murder, felony murder during the commission of aggravated battery, cruelty to children in the first degree and aggravated battery. She was not found guilty of malice murder.
Brennan was sentenced Thursday morning to life in prison with the possibility of parole for the first three charges. For the fourth charge, aggravated battery, she will serve 20 years in prison, to run concurrently to the life sentence, according to Long County Deputy Clerk of Courts Lisa Middleton-Morris.
After the verdict was read, Sarah Harris’ biological mother, Christy Harris, wept and said, “That’s justice for my daughter. I’m satisfied.”
Long County Sheriff’s Office Chief Detective Ty Smith, the case’s chief investigator, said, “Justice was served for little Sarah. She was the victim in all of this and justice was finally served.”
Superior Court Judge David Cavender presided over the trial.
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