A Rockdale woman who was convicted of capital murder in 2014 in the death of her 2-year-old foster child died in prison Thursday of natural causes, officials said.
Sherill Small was being housed in the Carole Young Medical Facility in Dickinson, where she was transferred a month ago. An autopsy was ordered and her cause of death will officially be determined by the medical examiner, a Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman said. Results of the autopsy could take months to be returned. Small was 57 years old.
In 2015 there were 375 inmate deaths by natural causes in state prison facilities, TDCJ records show.
A Milam County judge sentenced Small to life in prison without parole two years ago for the 2013 slaying of Alexandria Hill. Prosecutors at the time chose not to seek the death penalty because of Small's lack of criminal history. Hill's biological parents took the child off life support three days after she sustained traumatic brain injuries while under Small's care. Rockdale police said Small gave conflicting statements about the events leading to the child's injuries. Small first said she was spinning Hill in circles in their home when she accidentally let go of one of the girl's hands. Small told police Hill fell back and hit her head on the carpet.
After Hill died, Small amended her statement. She then told police she had become frustrated with the girl, so she picked her up, swung the girl over her head and brought her down near the ground with "a lot of force." Police records say Small had done this twice, then on the third time she lost her grip and Hill's head hit the floor.
Hill's biological father told an Austin TV reporter that he was four months away from getting his daughter back.
The Smalls had an 8-month-old foster child who was removed after Sherill Small's arrest. A week later, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services conducted an investigation of the Smalls' home and cited 11 rule violations, including failure to comply with background checks for regular visitors, exceeding the number of children living in the home with three fosters and two others related to Sherill Small, and inappropriate disciplinary action that was deemed excessive.