Defendants in the case of two children found buried in their backyard in Effingham County. Top row: Elwyn Crocker Sr. (the children's father) and Candice Crocker (Crocker's wife); Bottom row: Kim Wright (Candice's mother), Tony Wright (Wright's son) and Roy Anthony Prater (Kim Wright's boyfriend).

5 plead not guilty in deaths of kids starved, kept in cage

Five South Georgia residents pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges in the deaths of two children who authorities believe were kept in dog cages, starved and beaten before being buried in their backyard.

Multiple Savannah news outlets reported the defendants, including the kids’ father Elwyn Crocker Sr., a 50-year-old former Walmart Santa, entered their pleas in Effingham County Superior Court.

It’s the latest development in a case that’s drawn national attention and horror. JR and Mary Crocker were discovered in shallow graves on Dec. 20 near the rural Guyton community outside Savannah, authorities said. JR had been missing since November 2016, Mary since this past October. Both are believed to have been 14 when they died, two years apart. The kids were home-schooled and were never reported missing.

The bodies of Mary Crocker (left) and her brother Elwyn Crocker, Jr., were buried behind their family home in Effingham County. 

The case has led to changes at the Division of Family and Children Services. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in January that the agency declined to investigate a 2017 report of abuse, because at the time the report was made, the story it told of a merciless beating of JR was a year old. The agency says it will now take even “historical” reports more seriously. The case also led state legislators to pass a law mandating more scrutiny on homeschooling families in narrow circumstances.

MORE:

EXCLUSIVE: How systems failed to protect Effingham kids before death

EXCLUSIVE: DFCS dismissed abuse report before kids were found buried

EXCLUSIVE: Before death, S. Georgia kids endured violent chaos at home

Since the bodies were found after a tip to 911, authorities have been tight-lipped about the case. But during a hearing in early March, a detective testified that Mary had been kept in a dog pen in the kitchen, nude, and was beaten, starved and even Tased by the adults in the home. Her younger brother, James, 11, who has cerebral palsy and is in state custody, was encouraged to hit the girl with a frying pan, the detective said.

Elwyn Crocker Sr. and his wife Candice Crocker pose with the husband's kids, from left, Mary, James and JR in a 2010 photo posted publicly on the dad's Facebook page.
Photo: Facebook

The suspects were indicted last month on charges felony murder, child abuse and concealing a death. The indictment said that JR, like Mary, was kept in a cage, beaten and starved. 

In addition to the father, the defendants are the father’s wife, Candice Crocker, 33; her mother, Kim Wright, 50; Wright’s boyfriend, Roy Anthony Prater; and Wright’s son Tony Wright, 31. 

Prater and Tony Wright are only charged with murder in relation to Mary's death. The father, step mother and step grandmother are charged with murder in the deaths of both kids. 

All remain in jail without bond.

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