Erica Parsons was reported missing by her adoptive brother. Her adoptive parents said she was visiting family in the mountains. Investigators didn't believe them.
Charges filed against Sandy and Casey Parsons
Exactly one year after Erica's disappearance, her adoptive parents were arrested. But not for her death.
Facing years in prison, Sandy Parsons wanted to negotiate.
Murder charges for Erica's adoptive parents
Shortly before what would've been Erica's birthday, Sandy and Casey Parsons were charged with her murder.
In separate hearings, Sandy & Casey Parsons pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse. Justice was served for Erica.
Thursday marks nine years since the murder of Erica Parsons, the 13-year-old Rowan County, North Carolina, girl who was reported missing in the summer of 2013, nearly two years after she was killed. Her remains were found buried near a farm in Chesterfield, South Carolina, three years later in 2016.
Parsons' disappearance made national headlines and was the subject on many television talk shows as her adoptive parents, Casey and Sandy Parsons, made several claims that were refuted by Erica's blood relatives and investigators leading the case.
Erica disappears: Erica Parsons was reported missing by her adoptive brother. Her adoptive parents said she was visiting family in the mountains. Investigators didn't believe them.
On July 30, 2013, James Parsons, the older adoptive brother of Erica Lynn Parsons, reported her missing. He told detectives he hadn't seen Erica alive since November of 2011, almost two years earlier, when she was 13 years old. When confronted, Sandy and Casey Parsons said Erica had gone to live with relatives in Asheville, North Carolina.
Authorities determined that wasn't true. Casey Parsons, Erica's adoptive mother, repeatedly said Erica "wasn't missing."
“To me, she’s still not missing,” said her adoptive mother Casey Parsons, claiming her paternal grandmother “Nan” picked her up for an extended Christmas visit. “I liked Nan, I really did. She’s a very sweet lady, we had a mutual agreement she was going to stay there, but I mean, it was not like we couldn’t visit her.”
Casey said she was unable to visit Erica due to complications from surgery. She also said they were having trouble with James. Casey claimed he had built-up anger over an incident at home that led him to report Erica missing.
Investigators questioned the Parsonses about their actions and pressed them about selling Erica to pay off medical debt. Casey Parsons denied the allegations.
Charges filed against Sandy and Casey Parsons: Exactly one year after Erica's disappearance, her adoptive parents were arrested. But not for her death.
On July 30, 2014, exactly one year after Erica Parsons was reported missing, Sandy and Casey Parsons were arrested on federal fraud charges.
An indictment alleged that from February 2010 to August 2013, Sandy and Casey Parsons committed tax fraud, mail fraud, theft of government funds, identity theft, and engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the government.
Casey Parsons pleaded guilty in federal court to 16 charges and was sentenced to 10 years behind bars. Sandy Parsons chose to go to trial, where he was found guilty of 43 federal charges, leading to an eight-year sentence. Appeals by Casey and Sandy Parsons were rejected by federal courts in July of 2016.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder said he gave the couple stiffer sentences than the federal guidelines recommended due to testimony that described the couple's heinous treatment of Erica.
"You and your husband did something horrible, horrible with her," Schroeder told Casey Parsons. "I have sentenced close to 1,000 people. I can't think of a case that has troubled me more."
It was all that time in prison that led Sandy Parsons to tell investigators what really happened.
A confession: Facing years in prison, Sandy Parsons wanted to negotiate.
In August of 2016, one month after he was sentenced to eight years for fraud, Sandy Parsons knew the end was near. He met with investigators from federal prison, and detectives walked away from the conversation thinking Erica Parsons was dead.
According to a warrant filed on Sept. 27, 2016, Parsons admitted Erica was dead and described the treatment of her the disposal of her body. He told detectives her body was buried on a plot of land near his mother's home in Pageland, South Carolina on Dec. 19, 2011.
RELATED: Judge denies Sandy Parsons' appeal
Parsons was then transported to Chesterfield County, where he led investigators down a long dirt road just off Highway 9 that led to a family-owned farm. At one point, Parsons stopped and pointed into the woods.
“And it was just as you can see, a little mound of dirt back there just off the road,” said Chesterfield County Sheriff Jay Brooks. “You could tell it has been there for a long, long time.
Parsons was overcome with emotions, breaking down as he told detectives what happened. Several hours later, Erica's remains were found.
Carlyle Sherrill, the attorney hired to represent the Parsonses, said he felt a “sense of hypocrisy that they had represented things for so long that evidently were not true.”
RELATED: Erica Parsons finally laid to rest
Sherrill speculated that Parsons was aiming for a plea deal with investigators. Detectives never acknowledged any possible deal with Parsons. Erica's funeral was held in February of 2017 with more than 100 family members, friends and law enforcement officers in attendance.
Murder charges for Erica's adoptive parents: Shortly before what would've been Erica's birthday, Sandy and Casey Parsons were charged with her murder.
Just a few days before what would've been Erica's 20th birthday, Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten made an announcement many people had been waiting for: Sandy and Casey Parsons were charged with Erica's murder. They were also charged with felony child abuse inflicting serious injury, felony concealment of death and obstruction of justice.
"It's been a long time coming," Auten said.
The charges came two months after an autopsy revealed chilling details about Erica's death and the treatment she faced at home. Family members reported that Erica was subjected to physical and emotional abuse.
These reports include accounts of beatings with a belt buckle that broke the skin, episodes of being choked and thrown to the ground, her hands being slammed in the door, her fingers being bent all the way back, one episode in which a tooth was knocked out, being forced to sleep in a closet, being forced to eat dog food, being deprived of food and malnourishment.
At one point, one of Erica's arms was reportedly fractured and a homemade cast was applied to avoid seeking medical attention.
In weeks prior to her disappearance in 2011, documents from the medical examiner's office say Parsons' siblings described Erica as, "looking gray with sunken eyes, smelling bad with open, oozing cuts, very weak and complaining of not being able to breathe."
Erica's death was ultimately ruled a homicide by violence of undetermined means.
Closure: In separate hearings, Sandy & Casey Parsons pleaded guilty to murder and child abuse. Justice was served for Erica.
On Aug. 2, 2019, Casey Parsons pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and child abuse in Erica's death. During the hearing, Casey said she failed Erica as her caregiver.
"God gave me a precious gift, a baby girl Erica, and he had trusted me to take care of her, and I failed him and I failed Erica, I failed her horribly," Casey said.
During the hearing, prosecutors also described the history of abuse Erica faced. That includes being locked in a closet, burned, and being fed dog food.
Casey Parsons will spend the rest of her life in prison as part of a plea deal to avoid the death penalty.
Carolyn Parsons, Erica's biological mother, celebrated justice being served.
"I still 100 percent agree with that because their life in prison, living her life in prison will be worse than any death sentence she could ever get," Carolyn said. "I don't know that I believe she is sorry."
"She has no soul," Carolyn said. "She is a body that's just there."
On Dec. 17, 2019, exactly eight years after Erica's death, Sandy Parsons pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other abuse charges. As part of a plea deal, Parsons will spend up to 53 years in prison.