Charges dismissed against teen accused in toddler's death

Stepp listens to her attorney during a circuit court hearing in October.
Stepp listens to her attorney during a circuit court hearing in October.

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A judge dismissed charges Thursday against a 17-year-old babysitter accused of being responsible for a disabled North Charleston toddler's death.

Judge James Gosnell dismissed the charge of homicide by child abuse previously filed against 17-year-old Alicia Stepp during an 11 a.m. court hearing, ruling the state failed to show probable cause Stepp was responsible for the July 4 death of disabled toddler Ginny Hughes.

After the hearing, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said she would continue to review the case and decide whether to pursue charges.

During the hearing, Stepp's attorney, David Aylor, stressed the fact no doctor was 100% sure Hughes was abused before she died.

Stepp was arrested at the end of the Oct. 5 inquest held by Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten, where doctors and paramedics testified 2-year-old Hughes was found with a bite mark on her body and bruising around the mouth and forehead.

One doctor testified that Hughes was harmed by someone in a way that cut off oxygen to her system.

Doctors said they were not sure if the bite mark found on Hughes came from an animal or human. Medical officials say that they noticed Hughes' behavior had changed during regular doctor appointments.

Doctors testified that Hughes was very shy and not talking as much as she used to.

According to medical officials, Hughes started having unexplained seizures and brain trauma in April. Following an ER visit on April 29, DSS workers took Hughes and her siblings into custody after deeming her home life as unstable.

Wooten said Hughes died from anoxic brain injury, meaning a lack of oxygen to the brain.

According to a North Charleston Police Department incident report, officers arrived at Hughes' home on Brossy Circle around 1 p.m. on July 2 to find the child lying on the floor, unresponsive. The report states Hughes' eyes were open and her skin was partially blue.

According to the report, the toddler suffered from a genetic disorder that resulted in her not having full development of her legs from the knee down.

Hughes, along with her 3-month-old and 3-year-old siblings, were being watched by Stepp, who told police she cared for them while their mother worked at Waffle House.

When asked about what happened, the babysitter said Hughes told her she was sleepy so she took her into the bedroom to lie down. About 20 minutes later, Stepp said she returned to check on Ginny, and discovered she was unresponsive, although she was still warm.

At that point, Stepp said she realized the toddler wasn't breathing, so she first called the child's mother, and then called 911.

An officer on scene noted slight bruising on the arm and torso of Hughes, and the babysitter explained Ginny often attempted to walk and would fall due to her birth defect. The babysitter also told police Hughes "had been suffering with seizures, infections, and dehydration."

Another incident report from May 10 indicates a complainant call police because she was concerned about possible child abuse. The complainant told North Charleston police that on April 29, around 8 p.m., the toddler was taken to Trident Medical Center, and then MUSC Pediatric Hospital, for treatment of seizures.

Tests at MUSC revealed brain and retinal hemorrhages on the child. The child was released short time later and after the complainant contacted the Department of Social Services, Hughes was taken into protective custody, but later returned to her mother.