published Saturday, May 24th, 2014

Foster mom charged in Catoosa County tot's death

  • photo
    Saharah Weatherspoon is the little girl who died of injuries received while in foster care in Ringgold, Ga.

A foster parent has been charged with murder in the death of a 2-year-old girl who died on New Year's Day from injuries suffered while in foster care in Catoosa County, Ga.

Clara Louise Edwards was arrested Friday in Chattanooga after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined that the cause of Saharah Weatherspoon's death was craniocerebral trauma and the manner of death was homicide, Catoosa County Sheriff Gary Sisk said at a news conference.

Saharah died Jan. 1 from injuries suffered Dec. 29, 2013, in what an unnamed foster parent described as a fall down some stairs at their Ringgold, Ga., home, according to redacted case documents from the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services.

An initial autopsy showed that Saharah had bruising on her back, arms, face and torso, as well as "retinal hemorrhages and both new and old brain bleeding."

Saharah and her 7-year-old brother were taken from their mother, Jennifer Palmer, in February 2013 after the children's father attacked Palmer and stabbed her in front of them. The state also found that the children were living in extremely substandard conditions at the time.

They were placed in Edwards' care in early March.

Additional details from the state's case documents revealed allegations of neglect and abuse while the children were in the care of Edwards and the other unnamed foster parent. The file also showed that seven hours elapsed between the time Saharah was injured and the foster parents sought medical treatment.

During the investigation into Saharah's death, her brother was placed with another foster family by the Georgia Department of Human Services.

The sheriff's office still had not seen the full written GBI report at the time of the news conference and had no additional details about how Saharah died.

Sisk said Edwards was the only person of interest in this case, but added that additional charges could come after Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert E. "Buzz" Franklin examines the rest of the file.

Edwards, 59, was arrested in Chattanooga by Catoosa County fugitive investigators and Chattanooga police. She was taken to the Hamilton County Jail to await extradition to Georgia.

Attempts to reach Palmer for comment Friday were unsuccessful.

"This has been a very traumatic time for [the Palmer] family, for the area," Sisk said. "And it's still not over; there's still a court case that has to go on. But we did do our due diligence in making sure we did get all the facts of the case, and we feel it is a strong case."

Contact staff writer Alex Harris at aharris@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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