Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Assigned on Briefs December 9, 2014
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Bradley County No. 12-CR-276 Amy A. Reedy, Judge
Richard Hughes, Jr., District Public Defender, for the appellant, Natasha Moses Bates.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Ahmed A. Safeeullah, Assistant Attorney General; R. Steven Bebb, District Attorney General; and Stephen Hatchett, Assistant District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.
Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Timothy L. Easter, J., joined.
ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE
This matter resulted from the deaths of the defendant's sons, R.B., age 3, and L.B., age 5, and the discovery of evidence of the manufacture of methamphetamine at the defendant's residence.
The State's first witness was Nicholas Glen Laney, who was employed by the Bradley County EMS and said that, on June 28, 2012, he responded to a call to the residence of Thomas Kile, the defendant's father. He found one of the victims on the sidewalk in front of the home and the other inside the front door of the residence, both unresponsive. The victims' clothes were soaked apparently with sweat; and R.B. had "warm, . . . pale . . . [a]nd moist" skin, with blue lips and nail beds. No pulse was detected for R.B., but L.B. was still breathing and had a pulse.
Dr. Jeffrey Lynn Miller testified that he was an emergency room physician at the SkyRidge Emergency Room and was the Bradley County Medical Examiner. He described the condition of R.B. when he arrived at the hospital:
He was obtunded, he was unresponsive, you know, as where we are working on the child, you know, we are starting IV's and we are doing procedures to the child to try and determine his . . . condition. There was no response to anything we did. He was completely unresponsive.
Dr. Miller said that the standard temperature is 98.6 degrees, but R.B.'s was 109.
Dr. Miller did not believe that R.B.'s playing outside could have caused a temperature as high as R.B. had. Carol Hayes Mayo testified that she was on duty at the emergency department at Children's Hospital at Erlanger when L.B. was brought in and that his core temperature was 104 degrees.
Travis Smith testified that he was a patrol sergeant with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office and, on June 28, 2012, responded to a call regarding L.B. and R.B. He said that the EMS technicians already were at the scene and working on the two victims. One was in an ambulance, and the other was being brought out of the house. Initially, he thought it was a drowning call, but the defendant said the incident had occurred on Keith Valley Road. She said she had not called 911 from that location because she did not have a cell phone and had to go to her father's house.
Charles Dewayne Scoggins testified that he was a criminal investigator for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office and responded to the call at 2:44 p.m. to 851 Armstrong Road and immediately went from there to 879 Keith Valley Road, where the defendant was living. At that location, he examined the Slip and Slide and explained its condition:
What I noticed initially when I got there the slide appeared to be relatively dry with the exception of two very small puddles, all of which had dirt and bugs in it. The ground around the Slip and Slide was dry, there was no wet grass anywhere that I could find, and over all in general the Slip and Slide did not appear to have been used in the recent past.
He first spoke with the defendant at the SkyRidge Medical Center Emergency Room, and she said the victims had been outside, playing on the Slip and Slide and when she returned from the house, they were in the front yard and unresponsive. Because of the "suspicious circumstance" of the incident, he asked, and the defendant consented, to having a blood sample taken from her while still at the emergency room. The defendant returned with him to her residence, and later they went together to the Bradley County Sheriff's Office. She said that she had gone inside her home, while the victims remained outside in the yard, and when she returned twenty to twenty-five minutes later, she found them. She said that she had fixed the victims eggs for breakfast, but Investigator Scoggins found no evidence that eggs had been cooked that morning. Later, she said that she had been inside for thirty to forty-five minutes. He asked her the whereabouts of her cell phone, and she responded she thought it was in her car, which was then in the possession of the sheriff's department. He said that he examined her cell phone and found that it would "ring straight through to the Bradley County 911 Center." The defendant did not explain why her phone had been found in the trunk of her car.
When Investigator Scoggins told the defendant of the autopsy findings, she responded that the information she had previously given was accurate, although it was possible that the victims had been under the front porch instead of in the yard. Later, she said she had found the victims in her car:
When we were getting close to being finished she did finally admit that she in fact had come out and found both children inside of her car, describing her younger child [R.B.] to be in the front right passenger seat of the vehicle with that seat laid completely back, and that her old[er] son [L.B.] was partially hanging out of the right rear passenger door.
Two search warrants were executed at the defendant's residence. The first, on July 3, 2012, was to conduct a temperature study to determine the maximum temperature in the defendant's car, where she said she had found the children. The next search warrant, executed "approximately two weeks later, " was to search for the manufacture of methamphetamine. Regarding the temperature experiment, Investigator Scoggins said that the temperature on June 28, 2012, was 101 degrees, and on July 3, when they conducted the experiment, it was less than that. The car was parked in the same location as on June 28, and the purpose of the experiment was to measure the outside temperature and that at different locations in the car, using seven or eight thermometers. Every thirty minutes, each thermometer was read for the temperature shown and was photographed. The conditions on the day of the test were the same as on June 28, except for the lower outside temperature. At 1:00 p.m. on the day of the test, the ambient air temperature inside the car was 129 degrees.
Investigator Scoggins testified that the defendant told him she had a date with Mike Mauradian the night of June 27 and was with him from 4:30 or 5:30 p.m. until about 10:00 p.m., when she left to go home. However, after officers asked to search her cell phone, she recalled that later she had gone to the residence of Preston Woods. Describing the layout of the interior of the defendant's vehicle, he said that the back passenger door "was obstructed based on the front seat being leaned back very far and two car seats piled up right behind it, you couldn't get between the seat and the car seats. It would have been hard to get through there." He said that, of the four doors of the vehicle, "the only door that opened from the inside was the right rear which was blocked by the two car seats."
Melanie Carlisle testified that she was employed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI") as a special agent forensic scientist in the field of toxicology and blood alcohol. She said that her testing of the defendant's blood showed "amphetamine at less than .05 micrograms per milliliter, and methamphetamine at less than .05 micrograms per milliliter." She said that, following a methamphetamine "high, " a user would reach a "crash stage" and become depressed and sleepy.
Monica Datz testified that she was a crime scene investigator and latent print examiner with the Bradley County Sheriff's Office. She examined the defendant's vehicle and described the condition of the doors:
The front driver door, the exterior handle was broken but the door can be opened from the exterior by putting my hand in the hole and searching for and pulling, and I actually had to have one of our garage employees show me how to do it. I couldn't get the door open myself but I was able to pull on a mechanism inside there and open the door. And the interior handle on the driver door is broken, but it can be opened by pulling forward on a little piece that was still there, and I had to pull forward to open that.
As for the front passenger door, she said that 'the exterior handle is missing, there's a hole in this area. I pulled on a bar in the hole and it locked and unlocked all the doors, but the door would not open for me." She added that the interior handle of the front passenger door was broken off as well, and she could not open this door from the inside. The exterior handle of the back driver door worked "properly, " but the interior handle was missing and ...