Lexington County man sentenced to life in prison in toddler’s death

Prosecutors criticize DSS for allegedly failing to fully investigate child-abuse claims

In a case prosecutors called absolutely “heartbreaking” by a local attorney, a Lexington County man received a life sentence Monday in the horrific child-abuse death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son, the 11th Circuit Solicitor’s Office announced.

Swearington, Tayshun - photo 1

Tayshun “Tae” Swearington (Photo provided)

Circuit Judge R. Knox McMahon handed down the sentence after a jury last week found Joshua Warren Hopkins, 29, guilty of homicide by child abuse and aiding and abetting homicide by child abuse following the death of toddler Tayshun “Tae” Swearington on Nov. 27, 2013.

“It is impossible to overstate how heartbreaking this case is,” prosecuting attorney Micah Caskey said. “I hope people pay attention to this story, from the governor on down. This cannot be tolerated.”

The child’s mother, Sabrina Haynes, faces identical charges in her son’s death. She was dating and living with Hopkins at the time of her son’s death in a home the three shared at 718 Oakland Ave. in Springdale. Haynes’ charges are currently pending, prosecutors said.

Hopkins’ trial proceeded last week despite an executive order that closed Lexington County buildings ahead of Hurricane Matthew. Court officials received permission from Gov. Nikki Haley’s office to go forward with the trial, which was prosecuted by Caskey and 11th Circuit Senior Assistant Solicitor Suzanne Mayes.

According to trial testimony, a family acquaintance made a report to Lexington County Department of Social Services on Nov. 13, 2013, just two weeks before Tae was killed. The caller told DSS she suspected the child was being physically abused and reported that bruises had been observed.

However, prosecutors told the jury, DSS did not pursue the case any further.

“It’s important that people hear Tae’s story and that they demand better in South Carolina,” Caskey said.

Joshua Warren Hopkins mug

Joshua Warren Hopkins (Photo courtesy Lexington County Detention Center)

During the trial, first-responders from Lexington County EMS and the Lexington County Fire Service testified the child already had signs of rigor mortis when they arrived at the residence following a 911 call. Medical experts testified the child had been dead at least one hour before emergency personnel arrived.

Hopkins told investigators he had given the child a bath and then discovered him on the bathroom floor and having trouble breathing. Hopkins stated he attempted CPR and put full clothing on the child prior to the arrival of EMS.

An autopsy revealed the child had numerous bruises on his 26-pound body, including injuries in various stages of healing. Bruises were documented across his legs, buttocks, hips, and arms.

Medical experts determined the young boy had been the victim of ongoing, repeated physical abuse.

Hopkins told investigators the child “fell down the stairs” the night before his death. However, medical experts testified his injuries could not have been the result of a fall because of the pattern, location, and multitude of injuries. A forensic pathologist testified that Tae died from complications of physical abuse.

Doctors testified Tae also sustained numerous “defensive wounds” to his arms and hands as he attempted to shield off blows from his assailant. Prosecutors also made a point to note to jurors the child’s death occurred a 13 days before what would have been his third birthday.

The case was investigated by the SLED Department of Child Fatalities and the Springdale Police Department. Caskey and Mayes commended the efforts of law enforcement throughout the investigation.

“This case is a testament to the professionalism of law enforcement – the officers conducted a thorough investigation and built a rock-solid case. Both SLED and the Springdale Police Department have demonstrated full commitment in seeing Tae’s killer brought to justice,” the pair said in a news release.