Ladybird Powell has pleaded guilty to several charges, including involuntary manslaughter, in the 2011 death of her 15-month-old niece Aubrey Littlejohn. Powell made her plea in Swain Superior Court on Monday, Feb. 18, and was sentenced to at least nine years in prison by Judge James Downs.
Powell also pled guilty to extortion, possession of drug paraphernalia, and two counts of felony child abuse.
The plea and sentencing brings to close a tragic case that has included accusations that DSS officials allegedly ignored reports of abuse by Powell and then, following Littlejohn’s death, worked to falsify reports in their favor.
A Swain DSS supervisor and her former subordinate were indicted in February 2012 on charges relating to an alleged cover-up of the incident leading to Littlejohn’s death.
Candice Lassiter was indicted by a grand jury and charged with three counts of Obstruction of Justice and three counts of Forgery and Craig Smith was charged with three counts of Obstruction of Justice.
Both were named, along with other DSS officials, in a lawsuit filed in June 2012 by a representative of Littlejohn’s estate.
A civil complaint was filed in N.C. Superior Court in Bryson City that states, “During the time that Ladybird had custody of Aubrey in 2010 and 2011, Aubrey was assaulted and beaten, was deprived of food and milk or water, was abandoned and left alone for hours at a time, and was kept in a trailer with little or no heat, as needed according to the weather. The abuse and neglect of Aubrey occurred and continued during the times in which SCDSSS was investigating, or by law should have been investigating, complaints of abuse and neglect involving Aubrey and Ladybird.”
An autopsy report released in May 2011 states the cause of Littlejohn’s death as “Undetermined Sudden Death”. While the report was nonspecific about her death, there were questions about hypothermia as Littlejohn’s core temperature was documented the night of her death by Cherokee Indian Hospital officials as 84 degrees Fahrenheit. “The nonspecific findings of hypothermia are not present in this case; however, it is not possible to exclude death from hypothermia,” the report states.
– ONE FEATHER STAFF REPORT