WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — A federal judge administered a blistering lecture on Friday to the adoptive parents of a teenager missing from her home for years before giving them prison sentences for tax fraud, calling the girl's mother "morally bankrupt."
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Schroeder sentenced Casey Parsons to 10 years in prison for tax fraud. Her husband, Sandy, received an eight-year sentence. Neither of them showed any emotion during the hearing or made statements to the court. They were led out of the courtroom and into custody after Schroeder rejected a request from defense attorneys to allow them to report to prison on their own.
The sentences were handed down more than a month after testimony unveiled a pattern of abuse inflicted upon Erica Parsons, who lived with the family from 2000 until she disappeared in 2011 at age 13. She wasn't reported missing until 2013. Investigators have said Casey and Sandy Parsons have been uncooperative, though neither has been charged in the girl's death or disappearance.
The couple claimed the girl went to live in Asheville with a woman they believed to be her biological grandmother. But that woman has never materialized, and there's been no sighting of Erica since.
"It is a fair inference that Erica is no longer alive," Schroeder said.
Despite her disappearance, federal prosecutors say the couple continued to collect benefits, including monthly adoption assistance checks for $634.
"I've sentenced more than 1,000 people," Schroeder said to Casey Parsons before handing down her sentence. "I cannot think of another case that has troubled me more."
Schroeder based his decisions in part on a pre-sentencing report that focused on the testimony from a hearing last month, which described in graphic detail abuse Erica Parsons endured before her disappearance. That included being fed dog food or no food at all, to being excluded from family activities and having her arm broken by one of her siblings.
Testimony at the February hearing also revealed that Casey Parsons often beat the girl.
"I cannot fathom the hatred you had in your heart for that little girl," Schroeder said, adding, "In my view, you are morally bankrupt."
Schroeder said he could follow the sentencing guidelines for the couple but noted they had engaged in other criminal conduct.
The lecture was no less lenient for Sandy Parsons, who Schroeder described as "a follower" of his wife's actions.
"You and your wife are responsible for the disappearance of Erica Parsons," Schroeder said. "Only you, your wife and the good Lord know what happened."