LANCASTER, S.C. — Jacarion Gladden was two-years-old the night he shot himself in the chest with a 9 mm handgun he found inside his Lancaster home.
Toni Gladden, 27, struggled to contain her emotions when the prosecutor detailed the events of the night her son died.
“The model of gun was small enough to fit in the palm of an adult's hand, with a trigger that was very easy to pull, and no safety,” said solicitor Randy Newman.
Gladden and her boyfriend, Shazeem Hayes, drove the boy to the hospital but crashed the car into a utility pole on the way. Officials said Hayes was driving without a license.
According to officials, Lancaster police interviewed Gladden for six hours, in which she lied to them, constantly changing her story. Officers said she initially told detectives the shooting happened outside while the two-year-old was playing basketball.
The story started to unfold, but Gladden still claimed she didn't know loaded guns were left lying around the house and claimed Hayes wasn't there when it happened.
Her claims led police to begin investigating a potential drive-by shooting, but authorities soon discovered the pistol belonged to Hayes, a convicted felon.
The mother admitted lying to protect him and in court Wednesday, Hayes took the blame.
"It was my gun. It was my fault. Not hers," he said.
Gladden pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony and child neglect.
According to the autopsy report, Jacarion tested positive for cocaine and the judge said that information compounded the tragedy.
Through tears, Gladden said her eight-year-old daughter, who was in the house that night, misses her brother.
"Every day I try not to cry for my daughter because she longs for her brother. She's lonely without him," Gladden said.
Prosecutors said Hayes told the little girl not to talk to police because they might send him to jail.
The girl later told police she often saw guns around the house unsecured, sometimes kept in a backpack.
Family members told the court that Gladden is a good mother who made a mistake.
"I just really want to still be with my child, the only child I got left," said Gladden as she begged for mercy.
Judge Brian Gibbons told Gladden he is proud of her for working hard to recover from such a terrible loss, but added, "There is a dead two-year-old, which is very sad.”
Gladden, who had no criminal record, was sentenced to 54 months in prison.
Hayes was sentenced in April to eight and a half years in prison after he pleaded guilty to child neglect and unlawful possession of a gun.
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