Woman negotiates house arrest in ‘very troubling’ child abuse case

Elise Bryant
Elise Bryant

A woman accused of tying up a 1-year-old boy and punching him in the head was convicted and sentenced to two years on house arrest Monday after negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors.

Elise Arlyn Bryant, 26, was convicted of felony child abuse and sentenced in Harrison County Circuit Court. The state recommended a sentence of 10 years, with eight suspended and two to serve on house arrest, followed by three years of post-release supervision. She was also ordered to pay restitution of $1,000 to the Children’s Fund, a $1,500 fine and court costs.

It was a “very troubling case” that began the night of Aug. 21, 2014, Assistant District Attorney Crosby Parker said, when Gulfport police responded to a disturbance at the William Bell Apartment complex, where the child had lived with his father and Bryant, his stepmother.

The officers entered an apartment when they heard yelling and found Bryant kneeling over a toddler whose legs were bound with plastic Wal-Mart bags. The child appeared to have swelling to his head and bruising to his arms, authorities said at the time.

Police arrested Bryant on a charge of felony child abuse. The child was taken to a hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.

According to the grand jury indictment, Bryant struck the child “in the face and head in such a manner as to cause bodily harm.”

The sentence was part of a plea deal worked out by the prosecution and the defense and approved by Circuit Judge Roger Clark.

The District Attorney’s Office allowed Bryant to submit a so-called “Alford plea,” which lets the defendant plead guilty yet still maintain her innocence. Rather than admitting she committed the crime, Bryant admitted only the state had enough evidence to convict her.

Bryant, represented by Elise Lowery, asserted a defense theory that the child was injured in an accident.

“The defense had retained an expert to put forth testimony that the injuries were consistent with an accident,” Parker said. “However, the state expected to put forth evidence that the child had Wal-Mart bags tied around (his) ankles and a mark on the head and lip when officers arrived.”

The prosecution’s case was weakened by a lack of witnesses who saw Bryant strike her stepson and absence of medical evidence on how the child was injured, Parker said.

“The tying of the legs was obviously very disturbing, but what makes the case a felony is the mark to the head and actual injuries,” he said. “Fortunately, the child was released that day with a diagnosis of a bruise on the head and a superficial lip laceration.”

Wesley Muller: 228-896-2322, @WesleySMuller