CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The man charged with attacking a Johns Island woman and kidnapping her 4-year-old daughter will face three life sentences behind bars.
Thomas Lawton Evans, 38, will serve the life sentences consecutively, meaning Evans will serve each sentence back to back.
Judge David Norton said the sentence was “necessary to reflect the seriousness of the crimes and protect the public.” He received one life sentence for each of the charges of kidnapping, transportation of a minor to engage in sexual activity and aggravated sexual abuse.
Evans will serve the time in a super-maximum security prison in Colorado, Norton said, calling the facility “the only place suitable for a soulless, sorry excuse for a human being.”
The mother and father both spoke at the sentencing hearing. More than 20 Coast Guard members also attended to support the father, who is in the Coast Guard.
After the sentencing was complete, the judge looked at Evans and ordered, “Get him out of the courtroom.”
The child’s mother, Brittany Todd, spoke to reporters briefly after the hearing outside the courthouse.
"I honestly just wanted to say thank you to Charleston, thank you to this community," she said. "I have been continually overwhelmed by the impact that Charleston law enforcement, the fire department, FBI, MUSC, countless other people, I've been overwhelmed by them. Our family, we'll be able to move forward."
She said her daughter will be able to be happy in kindergarten and still take dance classes because of the impact the community has had on their family.
The family did not take questions after making their statement.
Though the child’s mother chose to speak publicly for the first time about the case, because her daughter was a sexual assault victim, we are not identifying the child by name.
“This case has always been about a four-year-old girl and her very brave mother,” U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon said. “Justice for that four-year-old and her mother drove everybody in this case. Usually we want vicious attacks to have explanations. If they are random, it means it can happen to any of us. This was a random, evil act. But it would be the last random act of this story. There’s nothing random about the excellent law enforcement work that took place in this case.
Assistant United States Attorney Nathan Williams commented on the bravery of the child’s mother during the ordeal.
“Being able to come in the courtroom and do what she did? And all along the way always told us, ‘You do what you need to do and don’t worry about me.’ Selfless," he said. "For her children, for her community, for the case. It’s really remarkable and made a difference in the case.”
Evans also has state charges pending that prosecutors say still need to be resolved, but Williams said the federal sentence ensures Evans will never get out of prison, something he called one of their “main goals.”
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said her office wants to make sure “no stone is left unturned” and that they have “every guarantee” possible in the state case.
Prosecutors said Evans attacked the woman on Feb. 13, 2018, as she returned home with three of her children after dropping off two of her children at school.
Investigators say Evans attacked her from behind with a knife, pushed her into the home and tackled her to the ground before physically assaulting her and causing significant injuries that included facial fractures and brain bleeding.
Later that same day, school officials called police when the woman did not return to the school to pick up her children and the school could not reach her.
Police went to the home at approximately 5:50 p.m. that same afternoon to perform a welfare check and saw evidence consistent with a physical assault. Inside, they found the victim and two of her children, but they could not locate the 4-year-old daughter.
The woman was taken to the hospital for treatment of her injuries.
Meanwhile, investigators began a massive search for the missing child. Police, Fire, Coast Guard and Rescue crews were called to the area to search and dive teams also searched a nearby pond. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division issued a statewide “BOLO” or “be on the lookout” bulletin to law enforcement. Charleston Police set up a 24-hour tip line and the FBI offered a reward for information that would lead to her recovery.
The following morning, investigators learned a credit card that belonged to the child’s mother was used at a gas station in Greensboro, Georgia.
Later that day, three Norfolk Southern employees decided to call 911 to report a suspicious vehicle they saw near the railroad tracks in Riverside, Alabama.
Police Chief Rick Oliver responded to the scene and located the car with the 4-year-old girl and her alleged kidnapper inside, the affidavit states.
It also cites Evans’ previous convictions, which included an armed robbery in 2009, assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, and a strong armed robbery in 2002. When the kidnapping happened, Evans had been out less than a month for the 2009 armed robbery.
Two days before the kidnapping, Evans ran out of gas in St. Stephen while driving his girlfriend’s car. Berkeley County deputies say he had a suspended license but they could not arrest him because they did not actually see him driving the vehicle.
The owner of the car, 39-year-old Sharon Hayden, could not be located at her Spartanburg County home and hasn’t been seen since.
Evans also told investigators he had a fight with Hayden and stabbed her. Evans said he chased her into the woods near her Spartanburg home where he believed she died and left her there, but could not tell investigators where Hayden’s body is located, investigators say.
Both Hayden’s mother and daughter have gone public with pleas for information in her disappearance.