A Florida woman pleaded guilty to killing her infant son in Edgefield County, South Carolina and disposing of his body in a dumpster in 2018, leading to a frantic search by multiple agencies and statewide attention.
In a 3 p.m. hearing at the Edgefield County Courthouse, Vernita Lashon Jones of Clewiston, Fla., pleaded guilty to homicide by child abuse in the death of 6-month-old Anthony Frost.
Jones’ case began when her friends in Johnston became concerned when they started seeing her around the apartment complex without Anthony.
She told friends who questioned her that the child was being watched after by another family member in Florida, according to information laid out by state prosecutors.
The concern led to a request for a wellness check by the Johnston Police Department.
Jones initially did not cooperate with law enforcement but through investigation, police discovered that the Jones had suffocated her son and disposed of his body in a dumpster located behind her apartment in Johnston.
After later confessing to the crime, Jones gave investigators information which led them to determine the victim’s body would likely end up at the Twin Chimney Landfill on Augusta Road in Honea Path in Greenville County.
Over 50 law enforcement officers took part in a search that took several hours. The child’s body was eventually found wrapped in a towel in the landfill on Nov. 29, 2018.
At Wednesday’s hearing, the prosecution laid out facts that led up to the child’s murder.
Jones moved to Edgefield County from Florida in the fall 2017, bringing her child who was just several months old at the time.
She had left Anthony’s father, Tony Frost, in Florida to live in Johnston where she reportedly had friends and family.
State prosecutors told the court that Jones became angry when Anthony’s father wouldn’t reply to phone calls and text messages that asked for the two to get back together.
Text messages dating from September 2018, presented by the state, communicated violent messages where Jones would threaten to harm Anthony if his father wouldn’t reply.
“On Sept. 27 in a text message she says outright to Tony Frost, ‘Answer the phone before I kill him,‘” a state prosecutor told the court Wednesday. “Then in November she says ‘Call us now before I beat him.’ He (Anthony) would have been 5 to 6 months old at the time.”
The prosecution described the facts of the case as “horrendous” and “shocking.” They further stated that the law enforcement officers who searched for Anthony in the landfill are still deeply affected by the case.
Chief Lamaz Robinson with the Johnston Police Department was one of the officers who took part in the investigation and search for Anthony.
Robinson said the case has not only caused great pain to the families involved but to the Johnston community as a whole. He asked the court to sentence her to “significant time” for the crime.
“You had every opportunity to take this child to a safe haven if it was your intention not to have him,” Robinson said. “You chose to end this infant’s life for your own selfish reasons. This infant didn’t have the strength to fight back, reach out for help because he was only 6 months old. You selfishness robbed this child the opportunity to crawl, take his first steps or even utter his first words.”
The family of Anthony’s father was not able to attend hearing Wednesday’s hearing due to COVID-19 concerns but were able to communicate through a statement read by victim’s services. In the statement, the family asked the state to sentence Jones to life in prison.
“Tony asks that everyone remember Anthony as the baby who was loved by his family in Florida and not just a baby who was placed in a dumpster,” victim services said.
While not refuting the facts of the case, Jones’ legal defense laid out a separate reason for what led to her killing her infant son.
In great detail, the defense described Jones’ history as filled with abuse, sexual assault and battles with mental illness including depression and schizophrenia.
It was this accumulation of factors that led Jones to attempt to kill herself and her child, Jones’ attorney, Bennett Casto with the Public Defender’s Office, said.
The night she suffocated her son, Casto said Jones had taken several pills and drank alcohol in an effort to kill herself. However, the next day she woke up but Anthony did not.
“This thing was coming down the pipe for quite sometime and her outlook and how she felt that evening led her to make a terrible, terrible decision,” Casto said. “She was essentially born a crack baby, was raped, abandoned and had a string of bad boyfriends. We ask the court for whatever mercy the court seems fit to give.”
Casto told the court that the threatening text messages were nothing more than threats to get attention from Tony’s father.
State prosecutors later refuted any claim that Jones had attempted suicide the day of Anthony’s death.
“She was specifically questioned by a South Carolina Law Enforcement Division agent if she had thought or considered suicide and her answer was no,” the state prosecution said. “When asked why she did it, she replied she did not know why. She just woke up and she did it.”
Casto additionally brought to the court’s attention that his client had two other children from another relationship who were in good health.
The two children are currently being cared for by their grandmother, May Atkins, who attended the hearing to ask for mercy in Jones’ sentencing.
“When she cried out for help nobody helped her,” Atikns said. “This child has nobody. Everybody abused her. Just like what happened with that child, it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right for that child, and it wouldn’t be right for this child to throw her away and not help her.”
While sympathetic to Jones’ background, presiding Judge Frank R. Addy Jr. said the case was clearly murder despite the circumstances.
Addy sentenced Jones to 30 years, giving her credit for the 658 days she has already served.
In an emotional final statement, Jones told the court that she had come to answer for what she did and wished she could take back killing her infant son.