Grace Trotman sobbed inside a packed downtown Charleston courtroom Tuesday as she described how her deep-seated fears of an abusive boyfriend drove her to help him cover up the death of his 2-year-old son.
The toddler's mother, Shaneka Washington, listened and cried in the front row of the courtroom as Trotman apologized for taking part in hiding the body of Rodricus Williams in a trash can full of concrete.
Trotman, 27, expressed regret over never telling Washington that the man they had both dated, Roger Williams, beat Rodricus, hoping to “man him up,” until it led to his death in 2010.
“I love you no matter what,” Trotman told Washington. “You will always have a place in my heart, as well as Rodricus.”
Trotman told the court she was terrified of Roger Williams, 31. She said he spent four years beating her, and she felt no choice but to obey him when he drew her into the plot to dispose of Rodricus' body.
Circuit Judge Markley Dennis said his heart went out to Trotman for her struggles but she still deserved to be punished.
The judge sentenced her to 15 years in prison, five years less than the recommended sentence that was attached to the plea deal she made with prosecutors.
With credit for time served in jail and with the possibility of release after serving 85 percent of the sentence, Trotman could be out of prison in 12 years.
Trotman makes deal
Trotman pleaded guilty Feb. 16 and agreed to testify against Williams. In exchange, prosecutors dropped one of the charges against her — unlawful conduct toward a child — and recommended a 20-year sentence.
Her testimony during Williams' October trial in Moncks Corner helped prosecutors win a conviction against him for homicide by child abuse. Dennis sentenced him to life in prison, without the possibility of parole, a decision the judge said he doesn't regret.
“He deserved it,” Dennis said.
Trotman's attorney, Keith Bolus, told the judge about splatters of Trotman's blood found on the walls of the Summerville home she shared with Williams. The splatters ended up there when Williams punched Trotman in the face and threw her against the wall, he said.
“Her blood was dripping on the walls,” Bolus told the judge.
Two psychiatrists testified that Trotman was a textbook case of a woman acting under the control of a man who abused her mentally and physically.
His grip was so tight on Trotman that she didn't have a phone or a way to get to work without him, Bolus said.
Bolus showed Dennis the mug shot from Trotman's arrest and pointed to two black eyes. He said the bruises came from a beating Williams administered in which he also pulled out her hair.
One of her biggest mistakes, Bolus said, came the moment Trotman didn't call 911 when she found Rodricus unresponsive on June 7, 2010.
Instead, she called his father, who instructed her not to call an ambulance. The child was dead by the time Williams got home.
Trotman watched as Williams stuck his son's lifeless body into a trash can and filled it with concrete. She watched as Williams left the encased body behind a trailer in Orangeburg.
“I'm so sorry I didn't do the things I should have done because I was terrified,” Trotman told Washington in court.
Trotman's cooperation in the conviction of Williams went a long way for Washington.
“I don't think we would have gotten this far (without that),” she told the judge before Trotman was sentenced.
Why she stayed
Trotman led authorities to the body after a botched attempt to cover up the child's death with a fake story about Rodricus going missing at The Battery in downtown Charleston about a month after he actually died.
Despite her gratitude for Trotman's help in the case, Washington told the court it wouldn't bring back her son. After the sentencing, Washington said she could have lived with Trotman getting as little as 10 years in prison, but mostly she's “glad it's finally over.”
In court, Trotman was supported by the distant relatives who took her in as a teen following a “hard upbringing” in which she moved from foster home to foster home.
Derrick Deas, a father figure of Trotman's, told the court he failed her. As she broke down in tears for the first time in the proceedings, Deas said he assumed she knew she could always come home.
“I made that assumption and, evidently, I didn't do a very good job,” he said.
Trotman said she will always regret not leaving Williams and never reporting how he beat his own son.
For Ronald Acierno, a professor of psychiatry at MUSC's National Crime Victims and Research & Treatment Center, Trotman's failure to escape the relationship is understandable.
Acierno testified that this behavior is an inevitable, hard truth of domestic violence cases, one that won't likely end with Grace Trotman.
“It's very disappointing, but very typical,” he said.
Reach Natalie Caula at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.