An Effingham County man accused of assaulting a 2-year-old child in his care was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years in prison.
Robert Edwards, who was charged with aggravated battery, four counts of aggravated assault and four counts of cruelty to children, pled guilty to three charges and was sentenced to 20 years for aggravated battery, 20 years to serve consecutively for aggravated assault and a 20-year concurrent sentence for aggravated assault.
Edwards entered his plea Tuesday morning before Judge Gates Peed, who handed down a sentence recommended by the district’s attorney office. Peed ruminated on his decision for a minute before saying he wouldn’t say much on the matter other than “it’s a very sad affair.”
Edwards was arrested Aug. 13, 2013 and charged with beating Sabrina Dawn Saunders' daughter while Saunders was at work. Saunders, Edwards' girlfriend, also has been charged with cruelty to children, false statements and obstruction of an officer for another incident involving her daughter.
“He maliciously caused bodily harm by striking a 2-year-old child in the face multiple times,” said assistant district attorney Brian Deal.
Edwards also was charged with choking the child, hitting her with a long, linear weapon and using what is believed to be a cigarette lighter on her back. Edwards faced a maximum of 115 years in prison on his charges.
Due to the brutal nature of the crimes, Deal said, the state was seeking 60 years, with 40 to serve.
“It was only the presence of others that prevented this from being a murder,” he said.
Deal said others in the house could hear the toddler screaming, and they could hear the sounds of the child being struck over and over.
Edwards told investigators he becomes violent when he starts drinking, Deal said, “and he said he had a good buzz on that day.”
Edwards also said he “popped her” before he put Saunders’ daughter in the bathtub.
“She kept screaming,” Deal told the court, “and he said he busted her (backside).”
Edwards kept striking her, Deal said, and he slipped and caught her around the neck.
“He picked her up by the throat until she started to choke,” Deal said.
Deal said the child was born prematurely and had surgery on her intestines almost immediately after she was born.
“This is not your average 2-year-old child,” he said.
Edwards’ parents testified that they would rather see him serve a split sentence, with time on probation so he could seek treatment for an alcohol abuse problem. Of his eight prior arrests, none were for felonies, but his arrests all stemmed from alcohol use, his parents told the court.
“This is an alcohol-related event,” defense attorney Richard Darden said. “I think it points out he has a serious drinking problem.”
Darden lobbied for a split sentence, including an alcohol treatment program for Edwards.
“I would submit the sentence the state is seeking is to the extreme,” he said.