Mother whose baby drowned in creek pleads guilty to homicide by child abuse, gets 27 years

Sarah Toney, who has pleaded guilty to homicide by child abuse in the death of her daughter. (J. Reuben Long Detention Center. WPDE background)

Sarah Toney, who was charged in the drowning death of her 5-month-old baby named Grace, pleaded guilty to homicide by child abuse before Judge Steven H. John on Wednesday and was sentenced to 27 years in jail.

After she was sentenced Toney, who was emotional throughout the hearing lets out a loud sob and left the courtroom screaming "Oh, God!"

Toney faced a sentence of between 20 years and life in prison for the charge. Prosecutors did not make a commendation on the sentence.

She plead after a hearing to determine her competency Wednesday afternoon.

Emily Gottfried, a doctor with the Medical University of South Carolina, testified before Toney's plea that she was competent and not mentally ill.

Gottfried said Toney tested positive for methamphetamine, amphetamines, and opioids and had a severe substance abuse disorder.

Toney was emotional throughout the hearing on Wednesday, breaking down in tears a few times and needing to be consoled by her attorney.

“Hers is a life long history of drug use resulting in the death of a child,” said Deputy Solicitor Scott R. Hixson. “In this case, we appreciate the long hours and dedication of law enforcement and first-responders of Horry County to bring justice to this little baby.”

Baby Grace went missing on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 after police got a call from a homeowner on Shem Creek Circle who said she found a woman on her back porch who told her she went in to the river with her baby, but the woman no longer had a baby with her.

Horry County Police, Horry County Fire Rescue, The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, The State Law Enforcement Division, and the CUE Center for Missing Persons all searched for the baby.

Grace's body was found Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015 around 3:45 p.m., according to former Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes.

Rhodes said the baby was found close to the house where Toney said she lost her in the waters.

An autopsy performed on Grace Carlson Santa Cruz showed that the manner of death was homicide, according to Horry County Deputy Coroner Darris Fowler.

Related - Local infant deaths spark proposed changes to state's Safe Haven law

Toney had a history of drug abuse and was on probation at the time of her daughter’s death for charges of possession of cocaine and shoplifting third or subsequent offense, Hixson said.

Through a SLED background check, we found that Toney has a long list of charges including criminal domestic violence, drug charges, driving under the influence, leaving the scene of an accident, shoplifting, giving false information, resisting arrest, disorderly conduct, and malicious damage to property.

The majority are misdemeanor charges, with a few felony charges.

Her record dates back to 2008.

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