Women collapse during life sentencing in child's death

SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - Two women collapsed in court Thursday morning after receiving life sentences for the death of a 3-year-old girl.

Shanita Latrice Cunningham and Erica Mae Butts were sentenced Thursday morning for the death of Serenity Richardson.

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Shortly after being sentenced to life, both Butts and Cunningham fell to the floor with emotional outcries coming from family members. Both women had to be wheeled out of the court room.

In November of 2009, EMS was dispatched to 207 Congaree River Drive in the Lakes of Summerville subdivision around 7 p.m. Tuesday. Richardson was not breathing and was later pronounced dead at Summerville Medical Center.

"All I ask is that justice be served for her today. That she finally can seriously rest in peace, and then maybe, just maybe I can breathe a breath of fresh air," said Ieshia Richardson, the victim's mother.

According to police, Butts was caring for Serenity Richardson while her mother moved from Detroit. Cunningham and Butts were living together at the time of the girl's death.

According to a written affidavit, Butts whipped the child with a belt for urinating on the floor. Medical staffers saw bruises and cuts all over the child's chest, stomach, legs, arms, feet, back and head.

Both women had been charged with homicide by child abuse. Butts entered an Alford plea, meaning she maintained her innocence, but acknowledged she would likely be found guilty. Cunningham pleaded guilty.

In a 2009 court appearance, a victim's advocate told the court that Ieshia Richardson and Butts were best friends. At that point in the 2009 hearing, Butts started crying, "I'm so sorry Ieshia, I'm so sorry Ieshia." Butts was also the victim's Godmother.

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