The conviction of an Horry County grandmother in the death of her grandson was upheld, but part of the conviction of her boyfriend was reversed by the state Supreme Court, according to an opinion issued Wednesday.
Julia Shawnette Gorman, 44, and Robert Palmer, 37, appealed their convictions in Gorman’s 17-month-old grandson’s death in 2008 to the state’s highest court.
Justices wrote that they agree with the state Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse the couple’s convictions on aiding and abetting, upheld Gorman’s conviction of homicide by child abuse and unlawful conduct toward a child, but reversed Palmer’s conviction on the charges.
Gorman is projected for release from prison on Sept. 2, 2039.
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The reversal of Palmer’s charges was based on the opinion that he was entitled to a directed verdict on both charges before his case went to a jury, justices wrote.
A directed verdict is when a judge presiding over the case finds that there is not sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to reach a different conclusion.
It is unclear when Palmer’s case would be heard again or what prosecutors plan to do with the case, but he won’t be immediately released from prison.
Gorman is projected for release from prison on Sept. 2, 2039, according to the S.C. Department of Corrections website.
“Gorman admitted mistreating the victim by shaking, spanking and overdosing him and numerous witnesses testified to her unusual affect and statements following the child’s injury,” according to the opinion. “There was sufficient circumstantial evidence that Gorman committed homicide by child abuse, but there is no evidence in the case-in-chief that Palmer was alone with the victim after around 3:30 p.m. when the victim fell asleep. ... We find there is no evidence in this record that Palmer either harmed the victim or was aware Gorman was harming him.”
The couple were convicted during a joint trial in November 2011 in the death of Gorman’s grandson, Richards Aydian Grimes. Both were each sentenced to 35 years in prison for the homicide by child abuse charge; 20 years for aiding and abetting; and 10 years each for the unlawful conduct toward a child charge.
Their sentences run concurrently.
The baby died July 16, 2008, after his parents made the decision to remove him from life support at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where he was being treated after suffering skull fractures and bleeding in his brain.
Gorman’s daughter and the baby’s mother, Cesalee Carnaghie, left Aydian in Gorman’s care on July 2, 2008, and had flown to Arizona to pack up her and her husband’s belongings to prepare to move to Beaufort, where her husband would be stationed with the U.S. Marine Corps.
Gorman and Palmer appealed their cases, stating that a Circuit Court Judge erred when he denied their directed verdict motions because the prosecution’s evidence was insufficient to prove whether Gorman or Palmer inflicted the child’s injuries.
“The only contested issues here are the identity of the individual who harmed the victim and whether the other individual was aware of the abuse,” justices wrote in their opinion. “Gorman testified in her own defense and stated Palmer was alone with the victim during the time when the fatal injury must have been inflicted. We do not rely on her trial testimony because it cannot be used against Palmer, and because no evidence adduced in the defense cases are necessary to a determination whether Gorman’s directed verdict motions were properly denied.”
Justices wrote that Gorman and Palmer were not together at all relevant times and that prosecutors presented no evidence of a cover-up by the couple.