Rock Hill man gets 18 months prison in baby’s death

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comFebruary 11, 2013 

— Roger Bryson, accused of suffocating a 2-month-old girl to death while sleeping on her in a loveseat last year, told a Circuit Court judge on Monday that someone else put the girl in his arms despite the fact he had already consumed three alcoholic drinks.

Bryson then pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and battery. Judge Michael Nettles sentenced Bryson, 58, of Rock Hill to 18 months in jail, followed by a year’s probation.

The charge carries the same penalty – a maximum five-year prison sentence – as unlawful neglect of a child, Bryson’s original charge.

Early on May 7, 2012, police were called to 844 Willowbrook Ave. after Bryson and his girlfriend, Toni Chavis, reported that her granddaughter, Jaylin Chavis, wasn’t moving or breathing. The girl had been placed in her grandmother’s custody after officials with the Department of Social Services took her away from her mother when Jaylin Chavis tested positive for drugs in her system at birth.

Jaylin Chavis was pronounced dead on the scene.

But Bryson and Toni Chavis weren’t arrested until July, when an autopsy by York County Coroner Sabrina Gast showed that Jaylin Chavis, just 9 pounds because of her exposure to drugs, died of positional asphyxiation, a result of Bryson placing the child in a loveseat, leaning back and then falling asleep, said Deputy 16th Circuit Solicitor Willy Thompson.

Less than an hour later, Bryson, who he said suffers from a problem with alcohol and had been drinking that night, found Jaylin Chavis behind him, pinned between the loveseat and Bryson’s back, Thompson said.

Thompson asked Nettles to give Bryson the maximum sentence – five years in prison.

“While I don’t think Mr. Bryson intended to kill the child, he did something with his judgment that was very reckless, very foolish,” Thompson said.

Bryson’s lawyer, Rock Hill attorney Gary Lemel, told Judge Nettles that Bryson, an industrial electrician who works on an “as-needed basis,” takes care of his elderly mother, does electrical work and plays guitar for his church and is well-known in the community.

Most of all, “he has suffered for that choice every single day,” Lemel said. “This is a tragic, tragic accident that came about from one bad choice.

“What I do know is that Roger loved this child.”

Bryson took care of Jaylin Chavis although they weren’t related, Lemel stressed, asking that Judge Nettles give his client a probationary sentence.

“He has struggled with this mightily,” Lemel said.

Linda Griffin, who lives next to Bryson’s mother, said she went to the house the night Jaylin Chavis died and found Bryson, crying and shaken.

“I took Roger in my arms and he cried,” she said. “He said, ‘Linda, I didn’t hurt that baby ... I didn’t hurt that baby.’”

Toni Chavis, Jaylin Chavis’ grandmother, also was charged with unlawful neglect of a child. An arrest warrant alleges she misled DSS officials, failing to notify them that she and Jaylin Chavis would be living with Bryson at his Rock Hill home.

The warrant also states she allowed Bryson to watch the child although she knew he had been drinking. Her case is pending.

Before Jaylin Chavis died, Bryson said Toni Chavis handed him the baby. Still, he admitted his wrongdoing, saying, “I did allow it to happen. I regret this so greatly.”

But in court Monday, Caitlin Chavis, pregnant again, also wept and claimed she smelled alcohol on Bryson’s breath when she went to the house that morning.

Through tears, she asked, “As a grown-up, if he knew he was drinking, why did he not give her back?”

“I don’t have her (Jaylin) with me,” Caitlin Chavis said. “I’ve lost something I’ll never get back.”

So has Jason Scott, Jaylin’s father.

Scott, who is also a grandfather, said he didn’t have custody of Jaylin because Caitlin Chavis filed a restraining order against him when he threatened to take the baby from her when she was born.

He said he’s waited for a long time to say that Bryson “has shown no remorse to anybody for what he’s done ... he should spend all five years in jail.”

“Certainly, I don’t believe there’s anybody here who thinks you intended to harm the child,” Nettles said to Bryson. “You did have something to drink and you exercised poor judgment.”

Along with jail time, Bryson’s sentence includes substance abuse counseling and random drug and alcohol testing.

After the verdict, Scott said he was pleased.

“I was worried about Roger walking away without time,” he said. “I’m glad he went to jail ... he felt more sorry for himself.”

Bryson’s criminal history includes convictions for possession of crack cocaine, driving under the influence, assault and battery and criminal domestic violence.

Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082

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