A South Carolina mom who authorities say took her 5-month-old daughter into a creek in 2015 and allowed her to drown in will spend 27 years in prison

By Steve Helling
January 12, 2017 02:07 PM

A South Carolina mom who authorities say took her 5-month-old daughter into a creek in 2015 and allowed her to drown will spend 27 years in prison — even though prosecutors had pushed for a life sentence.

Sarah Lane Toney, 34, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to homicide by child abuse. During the hearing, she wept audibly.

South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Stephen John handed down Toney’s sentencing, saying, “By her actions, she ended the life of a 5-month-old child, Grace.” John said he believed Toney knew right from wrong when she took her daughter into the water.

The state had pushed for more prison time, asking to keep Toney behind bars for life. “Hers is a lifelong history of drug use resulting in the death of a child,” prosecutor Scott R. Hixson said in court.

A toxicology report revealed several drugs in Toney’s system after her arrest in 2015, including methamphetamines and opioids. Prosecutors did not immediately turn a request for comment on the sentencing.

Credit: Horry County Police Department

During her hearing on Wednesday, Toney could be heard saying, “I miss her so much,” WSPA reports.

Toney’s lawyer, Eric Fox, told the court about his client’s difficult life — including a family history of sexual abuse, suicide, drug use and alcohol abuse.

Fox, who did not immediately return a request for comment, maintained that Toney’s family troubles led to her own problems.

A Horrifying Crime

Grace’s death shocked the community of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

According to a police report previously obtained by PEOPLE, Toney showed up at the back door of a neighbor’s house on Nov. 5, 2015, wearing soaking wet clothes. The neighbor said that Toney claimed to have lost her baby in the adjacent creek.

After the neighbor called police, Toney told them she had entered the creek with her daughter, Grace, but had slipped several times in the fast-moving water and ultimately lost control of Grace, the report stated.

When officers asked Toney why she had brought her infant into the water, she told them initially that it was because Grace was crying, according to the report. Moments later, she said she did it because “she was trying to find God.”

Grace’s body was found two days later in the creek.

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According to the police report, Toney appeared “to be in emotional distress and exhibited behavior normally associated with the use of methamphetamine” such as twitching and the scratching of skin.

Soon after Grace’s death, her father, Patrick Olberg, issued a statement to PEOPLE. “I am heartbroken over the devastating loss of my daughter, Grace,” he said.

“I feel pain and sadness that I never imagined existed. I can only hope and pray that Grace will not be forgotten.”