Prosecutors this week will try to prove that a Ringgold, Ga., foster mother killed the 2-year-old girl she was supposed to be protecting.
The murder trial of Clara Louise Edwards is scheduled to begin in Catoosa County Superior Court on Monday with jury selection.
Edwards was supposed to be watching Saharah Weatherspoon on Dec. 29, 2013, when the 2-year-old suffered a brain injury. She died three days later.
According to a case summary by the Division of Family and Children Services, an unnamed person at the home said Saharah fell down the stairs around 2:30 that afternoon. The child cried but continued to play and crawl up the stairs. About seven hours after the fall, someone noticed Saharah was slumped over and would not wake up.
"When asked why [redacted] had not called 911," a statement from the DFCS report reads, "[redacted] stated [they] panicked."
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation charged Edwards with two counts of murder and one count of cruelty to children in May 2014, after an autopsy revealed Saharah died from brain trauma. A medical examiner found bruises on the girl's back, arms, face and torso. The examiner also found hemorrhages in the retinas of her eyes and bleeding in her brain.
DFCS representatives put Saharah and her brother in a foster home after their father kidnapped them on Feb. 5, 2013. According to reports from The Associated Press and the Fannin County-based News Observer, Ellis Weatherspoon stabbed the children's mother, Jennifer Palmer, multiple times. Then he brought the children into a camper and opened the valve on a propane gas bottle, hoping to kill them and himself.
Deputies managed to stop Ellis Weatherspoon before anybody died.
But even before then, according to DFCS, the children lived without basic staples. They didn't have running water. They didn't have heat in the winter. Often, they didn't have food.
In March 2013, Saharah and her brother moved into a Ringgold home whose operators had just been approved as foster parents two days earlier.
Two months later, someone reported to DFCS that one of the children had a bruised cheek "that looked awful." The foster parents told investigators the child fell out of a chair.
In June 2013, according to the DFCS case summary, the children moved back in with Palmer for a "trial home placement." Three months later, DFCS representatives moved Saharah and her brother back to the Ringgold home because they said the children were present when someone was arrested for drug possession.
When they returned to the foster home, one of the children cried and begged to stay away from there. The child said one of the caregivers was "mean." But, according to DFCS, the child did not provide more details or say anything about physical abuse.
Around the same time, according to a redacted DFCS case summary, an unnamed person told investigators he or she had "a gut feeling that something is not right." Someone also filed an anonymous report saying the foster parents were yelling at the children.
At some point after October 2013, according to the case summary, DFCS investigators looked into a claim the foster parents left the children outside without supervision. Someone also reported hearing one of the foster parents telling a child to take a bath.
"If I give you a bath," the parent was accused of saying, "it's going to hurt."
When one of the children was asked about this, according to the DFCS report, there "was no outcry of abuse." The foster parents also denied these allegations, and the investigator closed the case, saying the reports could not be backed up.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@times freepress.com or at 423-757-6476.