Prosecutors ask to re-try Ringgold foster mom accused of killing child

Clara Louise Edwards is escorted into the Catoosa County Courthouse for a 2014 bond hearing in the death of 2-year-old Saharah Weatherspoon.

Prosecutors want to go back to court with Clara Louise Edwards, a Ringgold, Ga., woman accused of killing her foster child.

On Feb. 18, a jury in Catoosa County Superior Court convicted Edwards, 60, of cruelty to children, a charge that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The jury also found Edwards not guilty of malice murder, but it failed to reach a verdict on felony murder - the killing of somebody while committing a felony, regardless of whether the slaying was intentional.

Judge Ralph Van Pelt Jr. scheduled Edwards' sentencing hearing on the cruelty to children charge for March 25.

photo Saharah Weatherspoon
But Alan Norton, Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit assistant district attorney, is asking Van Pelt to push that sentencing hearing back. Before the judge decides how long Edwards will go to prison for cruelty to children, Norton wants to bring her back to court for a new trial on the felony murder charge, which he can do since the first jury did not reach a verdict.

"Conducting a sentencing hearing on the offense Cruelty to Children in the First Degree, during the pendency of the offense of Felony Murder, is an inefficient use of judicial resources," Norton wrote in his motion, filed Feb. 24. "Should the Defendant, after lawful retrial, be convicted of the offense of Felony Murder, the Court would be obligated to merge the conviction for Cruelty to Children in the First Degree with the conviction for Felony Murder."

He added: "The State of Georgia has an obligation to ensure that the retrial of the above referenced Defendant for the offense of Felony Murder occurs in a prompt and timely manner."

In December 2013, Edwards said she found her 2-year-old foster child, Saharah Elise Weatherspoon, unconscious in the girl's bedroom. She told investigators Saharah slipped down the steps hours earlier that day and bumped her head. The girl seemed fine at the time.

But when she brought Saharah to T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger that night, doctors found bruises on her face, stomach, arm and back. They also found two blood clots in her brain: one from recent trauma and another that had been there for weeks, maybe months.

During the trial last month, Norton and Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin argued that the bruises were inconsistent with a fall. They also argued that the long-term blood clot implied that Edwards continually beat Saharah.

Also, employees at the girl's day care reported suspicions of abuse to the Division of Family and Children Services. So did congregates at Edwards' former church.

But Dan Ripper, Edwards' defense attorney, pointed out that two DFCS investigations did not lead to any findings. He said Saharah came to Edwards' foster home with developmental delays. She had trouble walking, Ripper said, and she often fell.

"She did not kill this child," Ripper told the jury during his opening statement. "We believe the proof will show this child was abused since she was born. And when she unfortunately had an accident that day, that was the last straw."

The jury deliberated in Edwards' case for 11 hours over three days before Van Pelt declared a mistrial on the charge of felony murder.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.