Bond set for Winthrop student charged in beating death of 5-year-old girl

adys@heraldonline.comMarch 22, 2013 

— Despite a grandmother’s plea that “a tiny little girl had no chance to fight off a monster,” a judge set bond Friday for the wounded Iraq War veteran accused of beating his girlfriend’s 5-year-old daughter to death outside Lancaster earlier this month.

For the first time, the lawyer for accused child killer Phillip Gleason offered a defense in the case, calling shaken baby cases “junk science” and saying Soren Chilson’s death from brain injuries was consistent with choking after a seizure.

Circuit Court Judge Brooks Goldsmith called what happened to Soren “a heinous crime,” but set a $150,000 bond for Gleason, 27.

The Winthrop University student and Purple Heart recipient – injured by a bomb in Iraq in 2006 while serving in the Army – is the boyfriend of Soren’s mother, April Snipes. He was charged with homicide by child abuse after Soren died March 5 and has been in jail ever since. A conviction would carry up to life in prison.

Soren was bruised all over her body but died from the bleeding in her brain that occurred within hours of when Gleason was the only person caring for her, said Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield.

Two detectives with the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, Jason Catoe and Craig Bailey, joined Barfield in asking that bond be denied because Soren was so badly beaten.

Catoe described Soren’s injuries as “one of the most brutal things I have ever seen.”

Bailey, a detective for 24 years, was close to tears when telling Judge Goldsmith, “You could hardly put your hand on her and not touch a bruise...She was completely innocent.”

Lancaster County Sheriff Barry Faile told the judge in asking that bond be denied: “This man is a danger to the community.”

Gleason told police that Soren was choking, had a seizure and was coughing up blood after he carried her to a bathroom, Barfield said. He called 911, but emergency responders noticed how badly Soren had been injured.

An autopsy showed bruises on all four limbs, her feet, chest and back, as well as several wounds to her head and face. She also suffered internal bleeding.

Soren’s step-grandmother, Wanda Chilson, told Goldsmith that Soren would never attend school, marry, or have a life because of Gleason, whom she called a “monster.”

Soren’s father, Jeremy Chilson, died in December. Her mother was not in court Friday.

Gleason did not speak in court, but his lawyer, Chris Wellborn of Rock Hill, said he is neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community. Wellborn was disappointed that the bond hearing had become a “trial,” with much testimony from law enforcement, when the sole reason for the hearing was to argue for bond.

Wellborn argued that Soren’s, brain injuries could have come after she was choking and Gleason tried to help her before she died.

“There is bruising, no question,” he said. “But does that mean my client beat her? No.”

Gleason will be required to wear a GPS monitor if he is able to make bail. As of 5 p.m. Friday, he was still in the Lancaster County jail.

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Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065

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