2-Year-Old Texas Girl Removed from Parents over Father’s Marijuana Use Murdered by Foster Mother
The Bryan-College Station Eagle reports a Milam County jury took less than five hours to find Sherill Small, 55, guilty of capital murder for the July 29, 2013 killing of Alex Hill.
Despite appearing healthy and happy, Alex was removed from the custody of her parents, Mary Sweeny and Joshua Hill, after her father admitted to smoking marijuana after putting the child to bed at night.
Clemons Small, Sherill’s 52-year-old husband, lived in the foster home at the same time as Alex. He is a recovering crack cocaine addict who had admitted to multiple drug charges and was convicted for selling marijuana, the Dallas Morning News reports.
The prospective foster parents disclosed this information to state officials during their application, but their home was still considered a “safe environment,” Fox 43 reports.
Additionally, neither of the child’s foster parents were gainfully employed. According to Rockdale Police Chief Thomas Harris, the couple planned on fostering five or six children as a source of income.
Furthermore, one of their biological daughters told police she had been removed from Small’s care by Child Protective Services for neglect, and Harris told reporters that another one of her biological children called CPS to warn them that the woman was unfit to be a foster parent.
Hill and Sweeny had reported bruises on Alex which they noticed during visitations, but were never told about the foster parents’ history of violations.
Around 7:00 p.m. on July 29, 2013, Sherill Small called 911 and reported that Alex had stopped breathing. Paramedics rushed the toddler to a Rockdale hospital with severe head injuries. The child was then airlifted to a children’s hospital in Temple, where she remained in a coma until Sweeny and Hill decided to remove her from life support two days later.
Chief Harris told reporters that Sherill Small initially claimed the girl’s injuries were accidental.
“Her story was the child was running backwards and fell and hit her head and caused this injury,” Harris said, according to KTBC.
But Small soon changed her story.
“In her statement what she said was she actually slammed the child on the ground and she claims it was an accident that she was swinging the child in a downward motion and dropped the child. So it went from the child was running backwards to, I was horsing around,” said Harris.
According to the medical examiner’s court testimony, the slain toddler’s head hit the floor so hard that she had “subdural hemorrhaging, subarachnoid hemorrhaging, and retinal hemorrhaging in both eyes.”
The case garnered international attention and brought intense scrutiny upon Texas Mentor, a state agency which places children in foster homes. Some child welfare experts who have reviewed the agency’s numerous violations allege its vetting process for prospective foster parents is deeply flawed.
“They’re not learning enough about these people,” Irene Clemens, a retired child placement agency executive from Austin, told the Morning News.
Former state district judge Scott McCown told the paper that stories like Hill’s “make me wonder exactly where they’re recruiting these foster parents and how they’re screening them.”
Alex’s relatives reacted to Small’s sentencing on a Facebook page titled“Justice 4 Alex Hill”:
“Happy birthday to my baby girl this Friday, she would have been 4 years old… today we got justice served for you baby girl! I never meant for this to happen, and I miss you so much! I love you and I’m so sorry, but that evil woman is gone forever and I wish you weren’t… I love you so much my little pumpkin… I will see you on the other side.”