COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina lawmaker was suspended Wednesday after he was indicted on a charge of beating his wife in a case linked to a 911 call where his children could be heard screaming "Stop Daddy."
Rep. Chris Corley was indicted on felony charges of domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature and pointing a firearm, said state Attorney General Alan Wilson. The charges could net Corley up to 25 years in prison.
The domestic violence charge alone can bring a maximum sentence of 20 years.
The Graniteville Republican, who a year ago suggested his GOP colleagues should seek forgiveness for their sins, was arrested last week on a lesser domestic violence charge that carries up to 10 years.
Prosecutors determined "the facts supported an elevated charge," Wilson spokeswoman Hayley Bledsoe said, without being specific.
By law, the tougher charge can apply when the alleged abuse occurs in the presence of children.
In a 911 call from Corley's home, young children could be heard screaming in the background. In the call to Aiken city police, no one talks to the operator but "please stop" can be heard repeatedly in the audio released Friday by the Aiken County Sheriff's Office.
"Just stop daddy. Just stop. ... Daddy, why are you doing this?"
Corley's wife can also be heard: "Chris, please stop."
That prompted the dispatcher to call Aiken County 911.
"I had a caller, sounded a lot like children screaming for help and begging for their father to stop," the operator said.
Wilson's office says Solicitor Strom Thurmond Jr. asked Wilson to take the case.
Corley, an attorney, hasn't returned messages from The Associated Press. His attorney declined to give reporters his name at Corley's bond hearing last week. A judge barred Corley from contacting his wife and handling a gun.
Corley's wife told deputies he stopped hitting her late Dec. 26 only after noticing she was bleeding and hearing the screams of two of their three children, ages 2 and 8.
Corley said his wife tried to punch him after accusing him of cheating, and the police report noted a scratch on his forehead.
House Speaker Jay Lucas suspended Corley soon after Wilson announced the indictment, effective immediately. That means he can't attend meetings, perform any other legislative duties or get legislative pay.
State law requires the suspension of officeholders indicted on a felony charge. Corley will remain suspended until he's either cleared or must vacate his office.
The 36-year-old Republican was easily re-elected to a second term last month with no opposition.
Corley's mother-in-law also called 911. In the later call, she asks for deputies to be sent to the home of a man threatening to kill himself. The dispatcher says deputies are already on the way for "some type of disturbance where the father is beating children?"
"No, no, no," she responds. "He beat his wife and he's threatening to kill himself."
The police report says Corley's wife ran with the children to her mother's house across the street when he went to the bedroom.
Corley may be best known in the House as a staunch defender of the Confederate flag.
During the 2015 debate on whether to remove the flag from Statehouse grounds, Corley suggested replacing it with the white flag of surrender and held up a piece of paper taped to a pencil to illustrate his point. The debate followed the June 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners in a Charleston church by a white man seen in photos brandishing the rebel banner.
In his Christmas card to House Republicans months later, he told his colleagues they lacked morals for voting to take down the flag.
The card suggested Republicans "ask for forgiveness of all your sins such as betrayal."
It began, "May your Christmas be filled with memories of a happier time when South Carolina's leaders possessed morals, convictions and the principles to stand for what is right."
Corley called it a joke in his smart-aleck style. Democrats got a card with a photo of his children.