SC mother gets 25 years for setting Rock Hill fire that killed 7-month-old daughter

A South Carolina mother will serve 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to setting a Rock Hill fire that killed her infant daughter in 2021.

Laquita Joyce Henderson, 33, pleaded guilty to homicide by child abuse and second-degree arson Thursday in York County criminal court at the Moss Justice Center.

Brianna Henderson, who was 7 months old, died in the fire in October 2021.

The guilty plea and sentence were negotiated between prosecutors, Henderson and her lawyer. Henderson was charged with murder, but that charge was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Prosecutor John Anthony, 16th Circuit Deputy solicitor, said Henderson’s mental condition was taken into consideration in making the plea offer and agreement. She was determined by mental health examinations to be competent to stand trial before the guilty plea.

Judge Dan Hall accepted the guilty pleas and negotiated sentence of 25 years.

The Herald was the sole media organization in court Thursday.

The fire in October 2021

Henderson burned a Sanders Street home in Rock Hill on Oct. 14, 2021 with her daughter in it, according to statements in court. The child died as a result of the arson, prosecutors said.

Anthony said police went to the home the day before the fire after Henderson made statements about possibly harming the child. Henderson denied any plan to harm the child at a hospital and was released, Anthony said.

S.C Department of Social Services workers went to the house earlier on Oct. 14 to offer services, but Henderson declined, Anthony said in court.

Henderson then left the home on Oct. 14 and was not there when firefighters and police arrived. She later told police she went to the store for cigarettes, Anthony said.

An autopsy revealed the baby died from asphyxiation from smoke inhalation despite Henderson telling police the baby died before the fire, Anthony said.

“Brianna was alive before the fire that killed her,” Anthony said in court.

Henderson has been in custody since shortly after the fire. She received credit for 826 days in jail since she was arrested.

When Judge Hall asked Henderson if she had anything to say before court adjourned, she said, “I loved my baby with all my heart.”

Henderson must serve at least 85% of the 25-year sentence.