Sentences stand for trio convicted in ‘worst case of child abuse’ Vernon sheriff says he’s ever seen

Published 5:29 pm Monday, February 5, 2024

A trio convicted in 2022 of what Vernon Sheriff Sam Craft declared as one of the worst cases of child abuse his parish has ever seen will continue to serve their multi-year prison sentences.

The investigation into the abuse began after Clayton Allen Fulks of Rosepine and Dakota Wayne Singletary of Lake Charles were involved in a vehicle accident in July of 2020. When Fulks’ girlfriend — Stacy Lynn Tharpe of Rosepine — arrived on the scene with her children, Rosepine Police Officer Robert Green said he noticed one child was not with her. When Green inquired about the child’s absence, he was told the 7-year-old girl — who Fulks and Tharpe had agreed to care for at the request of her mother — was in Texas with Fulks’ parents.

Shortly thereafter, Fulks’ parents arrived at the scene to check on their son. When Green asked them how the child was enjoying her time with them in Texas, he was told he was mistaken and the child had not been with them at all.

“In truth she was still at (Fulks’) residence, hiding beneath her bed,” according to court documents. “For possibly two months, she was slapped, punched, kicked, thrown, and starved. She had been lashed by a belt, choked unconscious, force-fed hot sauce, submerged in ice baths, kneed in the vagina, zip tied, and she was lifted up by her hair and held in the air until her roots separated from her scalp causing a bald spot on the top of the head. When visitors came to the house, (the child) was forced to remain either beneath the bunk bed or inside the air vent for so long she had to defecate in the diaper she had been forced to wear. Because of the abuse, (she) suffered serious bodily injury. The examining nurse needed extra paper to list every harm done to (her).”

Craft described the girl as having “extensive bruising” that included severe bruising to her face — so much so that her eyes were nearly swollen shut.

Vernon Parish jurors deliberated for less than 40 minutes before returning an unanimous guilty verdict against Fulks in October of 2022 on three counts of second-degree cruelty of a juvenile. During the trial Tharpe and Singletary, both of whom had already pled guilty to one count of second degree cruelty to a juvenile, testified the trio did meth together daily. Singletary said he had seen Fulks punch, kick, choke, and beat the girl with a belt. Singletary testified it was he who put the girl in ice baths to quell the swelling, but the idea had been Fulks.

Tharpe testified she and Fulks argued daily and as the tension between them grew, Fulks would take his anger out on the girl.

Video evidence was shown at the trial in which Fulks admits whipping the girl with a belt and hitting her in the face and head. Also used as evidence was a recorded call Fulks made from jail in which he tells the girl’s mother that what he did to the girl was to please Tharpe.

Fulks received three consecutive sentences of 15 years at hard labor with credit for time served, totaling 45 years, to which his counsel orally objected. A motion for appeal was filed the following day and on Dec. 21, the court granted the appeal, appointing the Louisiana Appellate Project to represent Fulks. That appeal has been withdrawn and Fulks’ conviction and sentences stand.

Tharpe was sentenced to 10 years at hard labor with credit for time served. She appealed her sentence, claiming the court abused its discretion, which has been denied. The court did, however, order that the minutes recording during the sentencing hearing be changed to reflect the trial court’s statement regarding a recommendation for available drug, substance abuse, and mental health treatment.

Singletary received a 20-year sentence and filed an appeal claiming it was “constitutionally excessive.”

“Ultimately, (Singletary) faced a possible sentence of 120 years,” the appeals court ruled. “He had directly abused the victim for a considerable period, and he has a prior criminal history of violence. Furthermore, compared to similar cases, the imposition of a mid-range sentence of 20 years does not suggest that the trial court abused its discretion. Therefore, the sentence is affirmed.”