RINGGOLD, Ga. - To Kimberly Okwudibonye, the toddler seemed silent.
But sitting in the car some time in 2013, Okwudibonye said she watched Clara Louise Edwards lose her temper and yell at Saharah Elise Weatherspoon, Edwards' 23-month-old foster child. A car seat constrained Saharah, and to Okwudibonye the toddler seemed well behaved. But for almost five minutes, she testified Wednesday, Edwards ranted.
"You're not going to rush me!" Edwards supposedly yelled at Saharah.
"You don't tell me what to do!"
Minutes later, when Okwudibonye left the car, she wondered whether she had imagined the whole thing.
"I was just stunned," Okwudibonye said Wednesday, the second day of Edwards' murder trial in Catoosa County Superior Court.
Prosecutors charged Edwards with cruelty to children, felony murder and malice murder after she brought an unconscious Saharah to T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger on Dec. 29, 2013. Doctors said Saharah was brain dead on arrival, and days later they took her off life support.
Edwards told the doctors Saharah had fallen twice that day, once down the stairs and once while trying to climb a wardrobe. She said the child seemed fine at first, but hours later she found Saharah unresponsive after a nap.
Prosecutors, however, argue Edwards' story does not match the evidence. In particular, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin and Assistant District Attorney Alan Norton point to splotchy bruises that covered Saharah's face, stomach and right arm.
A medical examiner determined Saharah died from brain trauma. Doctors at Children's Hospital found both new and old blood clots on the brain, implying Saharah suffered repeated trauma over several months. The murder charges against Edwards carry life sentences.
On Wednesday, Franklin and Norton introduced several witnesses who said they were concerned for Saharah's safety in the months before her death. But there was a second element introduced, one that implied Edwards held dark religious beliefs that drove her to kill her foster child.
Like Okwudibonye, Ruby Feabry testified Wednesday that Edwards believed Saharah was evil. Feabry said she and Edwards both attended Destiny Restoration Church in Fort Oglethorpe, where Edwards shared some of her beliefs.
Feabry said Edwards told her she was glad Saharah and her brother were gone from her home because they were unclean.
"Something about demons," Feabry said.
She also said Edwards' husband had wanted the children out of the house.
"I didn't take her seriously," Feabry said, "but she stated that the kids may have been petrified."
Several employees of the Gingerbread House Child Care Center also testified for the prosecution Wednesday. They said Saharah often showed up with injuries, and the little girl never seemed excited to see Edwards at the end of the day, which they thought odd considering she had been away from home for hours.
Employees Jill Flood and Kim Owens shared a list of times in 2013 they observed injuries on Saharah. On April 15, they saw a bruise around her eye. On April 24, they saw a bruise on her right cheek. On April 26, a bruise on her left eye and her forehead.
On May 22, a scratch and a bruise on her forehead. On Sept. 16, a knot on the forehead. On Sept. 25, a black eye. On Oct. 7, a bruise on her forehead. And on Oct. 15, scratches around her mouth.
They said Edwards told them often that Saharah's injuries came from falling down.
Members of the day care center reported concerns about Edwards to the Division of Family and Children Services in September. Members of Destiny Restoration Church, meanwhile, reported similar concerns to DFCS in October. Saharah remained in Edwards' home, though.
Edwards' attorney, Dan Ripper, has argued that Edwards is being blamed for problems caused by other people. He pointed out Saharah's father was arrested for stabbing her mother before DFCS placed the child in a foster home, implying the possibility she had already been abused. He pointed out Saharah had developmental delays, meaning she could not walk as well as most toddlers her age and would often fall.
On Wednesday, Ripper also challenged testimony from the day care workers that Edwards' presence made Saharah sad. He argued Saharah's demeanor remained unchanged, regardless of who was around her.
Ashley Hicks, the director of the day care center, agreed.
"[Saharah] would often look sad," Hicks said. "You know how basset hounds look up at you? That's how I would describe her."
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6476.