Local News

Stepmother pleads guilty in son's tree-tying death

Posted June 29, 2009 2:35 p.m. EDT
Updated June 29, 2009 10:43 p.m. EDT

— The stepmother of a 13-year-old boy, who died last year after spending the night tied to a tree, pleaded guilty Monday in connection with his death.

Sandra McMillan, 37, entered an Alford plea of second-degree murder in the June 12, 2008, death of Tyler McMillan, who died from dehydration and heat stroke.

McMillan and her husband, Brice McMillan, were arrested shortly after Tyler's death and charged with murder and felony child abuse.

Earlier this month, he also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder under an Alford plea in exchange for testifying against his wife, whose trial was slated to begin next week.

In an Alford plea, a defendant pleads guilty, while maintaining his or her innocence, and admits it is in his or her best interest to take the plea deal because prosecutors have sufficient evidence that could find him or her guilty.

Both were sentenced Monday – Sandra McMillan to 13 to 16 years in prison and Brice McMillan to 10 to 13 years in prison.

Both tearfully apologized in court Monday afternoon, saying they did not intend for Tyler to die.

"If I could go back and change everything I would," Sandra McMillan said. "I loved Tyler. I never meant for any of this to happen."

"I loved my son," Brice McMillan said. "I'm so sorry to all those who trusted me with his care. I failed as his father."

Prosecutors said they offered the plea because they did not believe the McMillans intended to kill him and that the deal was in the best interest of all involved.

Tyler's maternal grandmother, June Sasser, however, said by phone Monday that the sentences were light. She called them "an injustice to Tyler and what he went through."

Authorities have said that Brice McMillan told investigators that he twice tied Tyler to a tree as punishment for disobedience and that the boy was left outside overnight on the second occasion.

According to an autopsy report, Tyler had a body temperature of 105.6 degrees Fahrenheit when he was taken to a hospital. Tests after his death also showed a pattern of dehydration, the report states.

The boy also had insect bites over his arms and legs and marks on his wrists and ankles that were consistent with plastic ties, according to the autopsy report.

He also had bruises on his buttocks and legs that appeared to have been caused by a rod-like instrument, the report states.