'The devil came across me'

In video interrogation, mother admits beating 3-year-old daughter

loberle@islandpacket.comMay 20, 2014 

It was the devil, not her.

That's how Beaufort resident Shayla Jerea Bryan, 24, explained beating and stabbing her 3-year-old daughter before throwing her from the balcony of a third-story stairwell on Dec. 19, 2011, at the Cross Creek Apartment Complex off Ambrose Run.

Bryan's confession came during an eight-hour interrogation at the Beaufort Police station following the incident. Clips from the video recording of the interrogation were played at the Beaufort County Courthouse on Tuesday during Bryan's trial for attempted murder.

The video showed Bryan telling Trisha Culligan, then a Beaufort police officer who interrogated Bryan, that her daughter was in the bathtub laughing when she began hitting her and trying to stab her.

"The devil came across me," Bryan said. "I didn't want my child to be in this world."

Bryan punched her daughter, Dionna Hagood, in the chest.

"She wouldn't die," Bryan said.

She then hit her in the head.

"She wouldn't die," Bryan said again.

Bryan said she then threw her daughter off the balcony. She said she immediately knew what she did was wrong and ran down to try to help the child, who was badly injured.

Michael Gioquinto, Bryan's neighbor, testified that Bryan knocked on his door, holding an unconscious, naked child and asking for help. Gioquinto called 911 and began administering CPR.

Courtney Gioquinto, Michael's daughter, testified she was watching TV in the bedroom at the time.

When she went to the living room, she found her father on the floor assisting the still-unconscious child, and a woman, Bryan, screaming "I did it."

A CHANGING STORY

Bryan's claim that the devil was at work inside her came almost four hours into the interrogation, after she offered a series of other versions, the video revealed.

First, Bryan said someone came into the apartment and hurt her daughter. She said she didn't know who and couldn't describe the person.

The suspect then became an unknown man.

Bryan then said that man was Justin Singleton, a Beaufort resident with whom Bryan was romantically involved.

Culligan testified that Bryan's story became more elaborate as the interrogation continued.

After Bryan admitted Singleton did not hurt her child, she confessed.

But she didn't take responsibility for her actions.

She claimed voices in her head were directing her, but also said Singleton and her daughter's father, Dion Hagood, motivated her.

Justin Singleton testified Tuesday that he was romantically involved with Bryan when the incident occurred.

When asked by 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone what role the child played in their relationship, Singleton said, "She couldn't move on from Dion."

"She felt like if she was to move on, he wouldn't participate as much in her (Dionna's) life," Singleton added.

Bryan told Culligan that she had been a virgin, and that Dion Hagood "had messed everything up."

"[My daughter] made me realize that I'd messed up in life," Bryan told the officer.

During the interrogation, Bryan told Culligan she tried to kill her daughter because, "I had to get rid of my past and my child was my past."

The TV screen playing the clips was situated between the judge's bench and the defendant's table, facing Circuit Judge Maite Murphy.

Bryan's lawyer, Charles Russell Keep III of Hilton Head Island, had asked if he and Bryan could sit in the empty jury box while the video played so they could also see the screen.

As the video showed Culligan asking Bryan to specify how she'd beaten her daughter that night, Bryan -- who had remained composed up until that point -- leaned forward in her chair in the jury box and wept.

Her body shook and her breathing was punctuated by sobs.

Murphy called a five-minute recess.

CRITICAL CONDITION

Paramedics took Dionna Hagood to Beaufort Memorial Hospital before she transferred to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Dr. Anne Abel, a pediatrician who specializes in child abuse pediatrics, testified on Tuesday that Dionna was "extremely critical" when she arrived at MUSC.

The child arrived with a tube assisting her breathing, and was put on a respirator.

Forensic photos taken at the hospital were introduced into evidence. Abel testified Dionna had multiple skull fractures, bleeding and bruising of the brain tissue and subdural bleeding.

A photo of the side of the child's head showed bloody gauze in her right ear that caught blood leaking from inside her head.

Abel testified Dionna had multiple lacerations -- gaping wounds with exposed subcutaneous tissue where something had pierced the skin's three layers -- a liver laceration and internal bleeding into her stomach. The child was given a red blood cell transfusion.

"I remember her abdomen was so tense and firm, you couldn't feel the outer layer of her organs," Abel said. "She was in a state of shock."

FAMILY WANTS HER BACK

Dionna Hagood survived and is now in the custody of Bryan's mother, Lavonia Bryan.

Lavonia Bryan testified Tuesday that her daughter is a loving mother who wasn't herself when she attempted to kill her daughter. She said Dionna often says she misses her mother.

Before her arrest, Shayla Bryan worked as an assistant manager at a Beaufort clothing store.

Her former boss, Evonne Gillason, testified Tuesday that Shayla Bryan was a valued, dependable employee who never seemed mentally unstable.

Before the incident, Lavonia Bryan said she noticed Shayla Bryan distancing herself from her close-knit family, and that she had even been caught talking to herself. She said her daughter has been on psychiatric medication since she was incarcerated, and now seems back to her old self.

Shayla's father, Isleow Bryan, also testified Tuesday.

He said his granddaughter is 5 and in kindergarten now. He said the only remnant of her injuries is a slight limp in her walk.

Shayla Bryan's parents, along with her cousin and former roommate Rashidah Frazier and aunt Henrietta Morrall, testified that Shayla Bryan did not believe in corporal punishment, that she had acted out of character and that they wanted her back in their lives.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Follow reporter Laura Oberle at twitter.com/IPBG_Laura.

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