MAGNOLIA -- The teenage parents whose 2-week-old daughter was bitten by rats nearly 100 times over her 5-pound body are headed to prison after they pleaded guilty Thursday to permitting the abuse of a minor.
Erica Shryock, 19, and Charles Elliott, 18, initially faced two felony charges, 20 years in prison and up to $21,000 in fines. In the plea deal, the Class D felony charge of first-degree endangering the welfare of a minor was dropped.
Both Shryock and Elliott were sentenced to five years in the Arkansas Department of Correction. They will be eligible for parole after 304 days and begin their terms with 293 days already served. It's likely the two will be released from custody within 30 days, defense attorney Joseph Churchwell said.
"It's as good as we were going to get," Churchwell said in an interview after the court hearing.
Calls to deputy prosecutor Ryan Phillips were not returned as of late Thursday.
The baby, who was born prematurely and weighed a little more than 4 pounds at birth, has been adopted, Churchwell said. Elliott has two other children in state custody, according to his affidavit of indigency.
Shryock and Elliott were living with a friend in a ramshackle house on Cordelia Street in Magnolia on May 14 when they awoke to find their 15-day-old daughter covered in blood and dozens of rat bites on her arms, hands, face and fingers.
Investigators saw the bloody footprints of rats in the bassinet, found an infant toboggan "soaked in blood" on the floor of the home and a blood-soaked blanket.
A 1-inch wound on the baby's forehead where her skull was visible required extensive reconstructive surgery.
According to the arrest affidavit, Elliott's mother, Regina Barton, said her son had told her the baby had been "bitten by a mouse" and that she told the baby's parents they needed to take the infant to the hospital even though they were afraid they would lose custody.
Shryock and Elliott gave conflicting accounts to investigators. Shryock said she woke up at 7:30 a.m. to the baby screaming in the bassinet beside the bed, while Elliott said he woke up to the infant screaming at 5 a.m. and "saw blood everywhere."
Dr. Karen Farst at Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock told investigators that the parents were either "absent or incapacitated to not have responded" because the "rat feeding" would've taken hours to occur and the infant would have been in distress during the process.
Shryock admitted in a court-ordered psychological evaluation that she had used marijuana, the street drug K2 and methamphetamine, as well as prescribed Tylenol with codeine in the week leading up to her arrest. Elliott told the evaluator that he had smoked marijuana just before his arrest and had used methamphetamine and K2 at times in the previous year.
Before being called before Judge Hamilton Singleton on Thursday, Shryock -- in an orange jumpsuit and the right side of her head shaved -- twirled in her chair in the jury box at times and laughed with a fellow inmate. When Elliott was escorted into the courtroom from jail, the petite woman moved to stand beside him and looked wide-eyed up into his face.
Elliott looked anguished but remained mostly silent, answering only "Yes, sir" to the judge when asked if he understood the details of the plea agreement. At one point, Elliott bent his head down to Shryock after she whispered to him.
The 880-square-foot, brown one-story home at 214 S. Cordelia St. was burned down in mid-September by the Magnolia Fire Department. The Magnolia City Council had voted in June to condemn the house.
The owner, Jim Brewster -- who owns several properties in the city -- bought the house in 2000 for $5,000, according to real estate records.
"Neither of these kids had a chance," Churchwell said. "They were homeless teenagers who aged out of the foster system."
Both had violent childhoods rife with neglect, as well as physical and sexual abuse, before spending much of their childhoods as wards of the state, Churchwell said.
According to the forensic psychological evaluation, Elliott has poly-substance use disorder, other specified trauma-related disorders, antisocial personality disorder and unspecified bipolar disorder. He has been hospitalized numerous times since he was 8 because of his mental issues and "cutting and/or threatening to kill himself."
Shryock has major depressive disorder, poly-substance use disorder and borderline intellectual functioning. She first received mental help at the age of 7 after her stepfather had a heart attack and died in front of her. At 16, she was sent to Rivendell Behavioral Health hospital in Benton after cutting and hitting herself.
Both dropped out of school in the ninth grade.
"They should have never been allowed to leave the hospital with the baby when she was born," Churchwell said. "This is DHS' [Department of Human Services] fault. Why did they wait until this baby's face was chewed on by rats?"
Attempts to reach Department of Human Services officials Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful. Typically the department does not comment on individual cases.
Metro on 02/02/2018