As he sent them immediately to prison for financial crimes, a federal judge declared Friday that Sandy and Casey Parsons are responsible for the death of their adopted daughter who suffered terrible abuse from the couple before vanishing in 2011.
“You and your husband did something horrible, horrible with her,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder told Casey Parsons. “What happened to her is known only to you and God. In the dark of the night, you did something to her.”
Casey and Sandy Parsons were sentenced to federal prison Friday for financial schemes that included cashing monthly assistance checks of $634 for Erica Parsons more than a year after the girl disappeared.
Erica’s adoptive father, Sandy Parsons, was sentenced to eight years. Her adoptive mother, Casey Parsons, was sentenced to 10 years.
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Schroeder said he gave the couple stiffer sentences because of testimony last month that described the couple’s cruel treatment of Erica, who was an infant when she came to the Parsons household in Rowan County. She was 13 years old when she vanished in 2011.
“I have sentenced close to 1,000 people,” Schroeder said during the 21/2-hour hearing. “I can’t think of a case that has troubled me more.”
The couple did not speak in court. They were ordered into custody immediately, even though their attorneys had asked that they be allowed to report to prison on their own. The judge said he could not be sure they wouldn’t pose a threat to other people, based on what they did to Erica.
Schroeder said the story originally told by the Parsonses about giving the girl to her grandmother was unbelievable.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” he said.
In sentencing Casey Parsons to 10 years, the judge said that she was a serial swindler. The court record shows she had run an eBay scam in which she sold items but never delivered them, and also that she took money to be a surrogate mother and then lied about losing the baby.
“By all appearances, you were the brains of this operation,” he said. “... In my view, you are morally bankrupt.”
Schroeder then sentenced Sandy Parsons.
“I cannot fathom the hatred you had for this little girl,” he said. Schroeder pointed out evidence that Erica Parsons was often locked in a closet and sometimes was fed dog food from a can.
“There was just a little girl who wanted to be loved,” the judge said.
Casey Parsons, 40, pleaded guilty in October to one count of conspiracy to defraud the government, five counts of mail fraud, four counts of aiding in the preparation of a false tax return, four counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
Sandy Parsons, 42, refused a plea bargain and was found guilty in October of one count of conspiracy to defraud the government, one count of aggravated identity theft, one count of false statement to a government agency, 20 counts of theft of government funds and 20 counts of mail fraud.
Sandy Parsons has two prior convictions for assault on a female against his wife. Casey Parsons had no criminal record.
They were charged for accepting government payments and tax deductions for Erica after she no longer lived in their home.
A normal sentence for their financial crimes would have been about three to five years. But under federal sentencing guidelines, prior adult criminal conduct can be considered by the judge even if there were no charges brought at the time.
In addition to prison time, the couple were ordered to make restitution to the government for about $41,000 for tax evasion. Later Friday, Sandy Parsons’ lawyer filed notice of his intent to appeal.
Mysterious case continues
Authorities have been vexed by the case since Erica Parsons was reported missing July 30, 2013, by her adoptive brother, James Parsons. He went to authorities after a fight with his parents and said no one had seen Erica for 20 months.
A year later, the Parsonses were arrested on fraud and tax charges. Despite an intense investigation that has included the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Department, the Social Security Administration and other agencies, no trace of Erica – nor the biological grandmother that Casey Parsons said she gave the girl to – has ever been found.
Though the Parsonses were convicted of financial crimes, the case opened a window into the investigation into Erica’s disappearance when Assistant U.S. Attorney Anand Ramaswamy introduced evidence about it in a February sentencing hearing. Ramaswamy indicated that he believes the girl has never been found because she is dead.
Erica was adopted by the Parsonses as an infant, and the couple received government payments because Erica had hearing problems and a learning disability. Her biological mother had at one point been married to Sandy Parsons’ brother, but Erica’s father was another man.
In the February hearing, James Parsons and other members of the Parsons family described a pattern of cruel physical and emotional abuse aimed at Erica, including that Casey Parsons encouraged the family’s other children to abuse Erica from infancy. James Parsons, now 21, admitted that he once broke Erica’s arm, and shortly afterward decided he could no longer participate in the abuse.
Erica was fed dog food by Casey Parsons as punishment for stealing food or sweets, was often beaten, was frequently locked in a closet and was made to stand in a corner rather than play with other children, family members said.
Only a small portion of the testimony during the daylong February hearing concerned the federal fraud charges. One chilling portion of that hearing was when James Parsons described Erica’s disappearance.
Erica was standing in a corner as punishment, he said. She looked “like a zombie” and was having trouble breathing, he said. In the morning, Erica and his parents were gone. When his parents returned without Erica, he said, something didn’t seem right.
“Mama looked normal. Daddy looked sick, like he was about to throw up,” James Parsons testified. “Mama went on her recliner with the computer. Daddy, it was a blank stare.”
During the sentencing hearing on Friday, Erica’s biological mother, Carolyn Parsons, sat on the back row and listened as her former in-laws were sentenced and taken into immediate custody.
Outside the courthouse, Carolyn Parsons said she is completely sure Casey and Sandy Parsons killed her daughter.
“What do I have to say to Casey and Sandy?” she said. “Enjoy your day in hell. I’m enjoying it.”
Charges: Various counts of wire fraud, false tax returns and identity theft centered around cashing monthly assistance checks of $634 for Erica Parsons more than a year after the girl disappeared.
Sentences: Erica’s adoptive father, Sandy Parsons, was sentenced to eight years. Her adoptive mother, Casey Parsons, was sentenced to 10 years.
What comes next: Sandy Parsons’ lawyer said he intends to appeal.