Rock Hill father pleads guilty in toddler’s death. Here’s how long he’ll go to prison

A Rock Hill father will spend 23 years in prison after pleading guilty in the beating death of his toddler son, court testimony showed.

Bruce Leroy Williams, 34, pleaded guilty under an Alford plea in the death of his 3-year-old son, Miguel Williams, in April 2018. Williams initially told police the child drowned in a motel bathtub but that claim was refuted by evidence in the case, prosecutors said in court Tuesday.

Williams has been in jail on charges of murder, homicide by child abuse and felony child neglect since soon after the child died.

Williams pleaded guilty in a negotiated sentence to homicide by child abuse. The murder and neglect charges were dismissed as part of a negotiated plea, prosecutor Willy Thompson said in court.

An Alford plea means Williams did not admit guilt in court Tuesday, testimony showed. However, by accepting an Alford plea, Williams acknowledged the likelihood he would be convicted if the case went to trial, Judge Bill McKinnon said in court. Sentencing for an Alford plea is the same as any other guilty plea, McKinnon said.

McKinnon accepted the negotiated sentence of 23 years.

“Miguel died a horrible death,” McKinnon said.

The child was beaten in the head, body and limbs, police and prosecutors said. The injuries included broken ribs, organ damage and other internal and external wounds, prosecutors said.

Williams did not speak in court. His lawyers, 16th Circuit public defenders Jessica Russo and Harry Dest, said he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs when the child died. The lawyers said Williams could not remember what happened to Miguel.

In a letter Williams wrote that his lawyers read in court, Williams took responsibility for his inaction to help his son or call 911.

“I beg everyone and God for the forgiveness I can never give myself,” Williams said in the letter.

Detective Kris Quate of Rock Hill Police Department said in court the injuries to Miguel were appalling and the child was defenseless from the attacks.

“I stepped into the ambulance and saw Miguel’s lifeless body,” Quate said in court. “He had bruises from head to toe.”

Quate also said Miguel was beaten to death in front of his two siblings. The parents had ignored or broken S.C. Department of Social Services court orders about Miguel before the death, Quate said.

“Miguel’s life and now death are an inconvenience to his parents,” Quate said in court. “The majority of his life was spent without an advocate.”

The child’s mother, Lakeshia Jackson, is charged with homicide by child neglect and other charges. Police and prosecutors said in previous court hearings and arrest warrants that she failed to protect the child from Bruce Williams. Her charges are pending.

Thompson said in court Tuesday that Williams and Jackson blamed each other for the child’s beating death. Thompson said homicide by child abuse includes both the abuse and failure to act to help the child after the abuse. The parents drank and took drugs for hours then made up a story about Miguel drowning at a motel in a bathtub, Thompson said.

“There was clear proof neglect that continued after the abuse,” Thompson said.

Both Jackson and Williams told police they did not call 911 because they did not want DSS to know what happened, Thompson said. Miguel was in Williams’ legal custody at the time of the child’s death but had previously been in foster care, Thompson said.

The child also tested positive for drugs at birth in 2016 and later in 2016 had an incident where his arms were broken, prosecutors said in previous court hearings.

Williams has a felony criminal conviction record dating back to 2005, State Law Enforcement Division records show. Williams served prison time for cocaine possession and was convicted in 2017 on drug charges, according to SLED and court records.

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice, and people. He is author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the U.S. Library of Congress.