Mother sentenced to 35 years in overdose death of toddler son

BEAUFORT -- Paris Avery stood up in a Beaufort County courtroom Thursday and declared her love for each of her three children. Minutes later she was sentenced to 35 years in prison for killing one of them.

Avery was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Carmen Tevis Mullen after being found guilty Wednesday of homicide by child abuse.

The jury found Avery guilty of killing her 15-month-old son Ra'Saan Avery Young in 2006 by giving him too much Atarax, a prescription antihistamine used to relieve itching associated with eczema.

A toxicologist testified Tuesday that a blood sample taken from the child during an autopsy showed hydroxyzine levels about six times the expected concentration for someone his age.

State law requires a person convicted of homicide by child abuse to serve no less than 20 years and possibly life in prison.

Mullen said there was no denying the death of Ra'Saan was tragic, but the law required Avery be incarcerated.

"Any punishment that I could give you couldn't be worse than having to live the rest of your life knowing that your child died at your hands," Mullen said during the sentencing hearing. "That's quite a burden, and you have my greatest sympathies but the jury did return a guilty verdict."

Deputy solicitor Angela McCall-Tanner said Avery will serve about 30 years, or 85 percent, of her sentence before she is eligible for parole. Avery also must register with the state's child abuse registry.

Before the start of Thursday's hearing, Beaufort County chief public defender Gene Hood again made a motion for re-trial, saying the state failed to prove Avery acted with an "extreme indifference to human life," as required by state law.

Mullen was unmoved by Hood's argument and denied the motion.

"The jury paid close attention to the critical evidence in this case, and that evidence was adequate to convict Ms. Avery," she said. "The fact that there was six times the normal level of hydroxyzine in this child's body would speak to the extreme indifference requirement, and as such, I will let the jury's verdict stand."

Mullen heard testimony from several people, including Avery, who spoke in court for the first time.

"I maintain my innocence, and I just want the court to know that I love all my kids," she said. Ra'Saan was the youngest of Avery's three boys.

Rontondo Young, Ra'Saan's paternal grandfather, said his family will celebrate Ra'Saan's third birthday at his graveside today.

"That was my little Marine," he said, fighting back tears. "He was a laughing baby, a smiling baby. We've never told his brothers what happened, never mentioned it to them, but we can do that today now that this final chapter is closed.

"We hold no ill will toward Ms. Avery. We will continue to pray for her, and we wish her the best in the future."