By Andrew Moore

WALHALLA — Rep. Bill Sandifer received a resounding statement from more than a thousand community members Thursday requesting his support of Bill H3786, which requires tougher sentencing on those convicted of homicide by child abuse.

The bill, which was first introduced to the House Judiciary Committee in March of 2009 by Rep. Joey Millwood, has gained an ardent supporter. Pam Grogan, great aunt of Brianna Bright, who died on Aug. 18 two days after being hospitalized due to alleged abuse by her father, Matthew Hinton, has drafted a petition in support of the bill.

Bill H3786 would amend Section 16-3-85 in the South Carolina Code of Law to increase the penalty of homicide by child abuse to life without parole and even the death penalty if decided upon by prosecutors. The current law requires a minimum of 20 years imprisonment up to a life term, with no possibility of the death penalty.

Grogan said she discovered the bill soon after baby Brianna died.

“I was researching the crime of homicide by child abuse, what the sentence was, what happened in similar cases in South Carolina, and it just led me to this,” she said.

Grogan said she was well aware that even if the law is changed, it likely would not change the sentencing of Hinton if convicted of the crime.

“That doesn’t matter to us,” she said. “The last day we saw Brianna in the hospital, we vowed to her that we were going to bring some good out of this. You kill an adult who’s not helpless and you get a stiffer sentence in this state than if you kill a helpless baby.”

On Aug. 16, Seneca police officers were called to Oconee Medical Center in response to a possible case of child abuse after EMS took 5-month-old Brianna from Northwoods Apartments, Apartment 129-F off of South Radio Station Road. Brianna was soon transferred to Greenville Memorial Hospital. By Aug. 18, the child was dead. A later autopsy showed she’d died from closed head trauma and also sustained multiple broken bones.

Grogan and her husband, Pat, held Brianna in some of the last moments of her life.

“I was in disbelief that anyone could possibly do that to a child,” she said. “I can’t remember another time when I felt like my heart was being torn apart like that.”

Today, Grogan is at the head of a push to get the new bill passed. She is not alone.

“I actually received a letter with a petition that had 1,1,00 signatures on it today,” Sandifer confirmed Thursday. “I’m in favor of the bill. I was in favor of it before I received the letter.”

That letter, he said, only strengthened his personal stance on the matter.

“One of the things that alarmed me when I got this letter is they quoted a statistic that there were 22 children killed by abuse in South Carolina in 2006,” Sandifer said. “That is a staggering number. That’s frightening. I think we have to look at the death penalty or life in prison without parole as a deterrent. If that deterrent saves one innocent child’s life, then it’s worth it.”

The bill will be looked at by the House Judiciary Committee and assigned to a subcommittee. The subcommittee will then vote whether to pass, amend or vote down the bill. Regardless, the bill would then go before full committee, where it would then voted down, amended and passed or passed as-is to the House for a vote. Sandifer said he was not yet aware of a timeline for a subcommittee’s consideration of the bill.

“When you’re dealing with a child, that is a defenseless individual. And the fact that an adult would kill a child by abusing it I think is the highest form of murder,” Sandifer said.

Meanwhile, the toll of Brianna’s death remains with Grogan and the rest of the child’s family. Grogan recalls watching her 14-month-old grandchild playing over the holidays and feeling a sensation of grief over the child who wasn’t there.

“I couldn’t help but think ‘they would be playing together right now,’” Grogan said.