The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division is asking state lawmakers for an additional $475,000 in next year's budget to hire four more investigators to look into suspicious deaths of children. The agency has a backlog of more than 450 cases.
"The further the review takes place by SLED from the actual event, the harder it is to make a case," says Laura Hudson, a member of the State Child Fatality Advisory Committee. "If all of the evidence has been destroyed or so much time has lapsed, then you have a problem there."
SLED gets on average 195 suspicious death cases a year of children 17 and younger. Anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of them end up being homicides, Hudson says, with the rest being accidents, suicides, or undetermined.
SLED Chief Mark Keel says a good example of the importance of SLED's Child Fatality Unit is the case of three-year-old Edna Hunt. She died in a Marlboro County hospital in 2011. The official cause of death was sepsis from a urinary tract infection. That could have been the end of the story, but investigators found a long history of physical and sexual abuse.
Edna's mother, Atelia Hunt, pleaded guilty to homicide by child abuse and unlawful conduct toward a child and was sentenced to 20 years. She also testified in the trial against her live-in boyfriend, Alexander Carmichael Huckabee III. He was found guilty of four counts, including homicide by child abuse and criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, and was sentenced to two life sentences plus 20 years.
It will be up to state lawmakers to decide whether SLED will get the money for the additional investigators. They go back into session in January.
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