Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Session September 19, 2017
from the Circuit Court for Anderson County, No. B2C0443B
Donald R. Elledge, Judge
Anderson Circuit Court Jury convicted the Appellant, Melissa
L. Lopez, of aggravated child neglect, and the trial court
sentenced her as a Range I, standard offender to twenty years
in the Tennessee Department of Correction. On appeal, the
Appellant contends that the evidence was insufficient to
sustain her conviction, arguing that the State failed to
prove her neglect resulted in the victim's injuries. Upon
review, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
C. Angel (at motion for new trial and on appeal) and J.
Thomas Marshall (at trial), Clinton, Tennessee, for the
Appellant, Melissa L. Lopez.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Zachary T. Hinkle, Assistant Attorney General; David S.
Clark, District Attorney General; and Anthony Craighead,
Assistant District Attorney General, for the Appellee, State
McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
Robert W. Wedemeyer and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.
MCGEE OGLE, JUDGE
10, 2012, the Anderson County Grand Jury returned an
indictment charging the Appellant with aggravated child abuse
or neglect of the victim, her infant son,  under three
alternative theories: (1) that the abuse or neglect caused
serious bodily injury, (2) that the act of neglect or
endangerment resulted in serious bodily injury, or (3) that
the act of neglect or endangerment was especially heinous,
atrocious, or cruel or involved the infliction of torture. On
April 9, 2015, the trial court granted the State's motion
to amend the indictment to delete two alternative theories
and the allegation of abuse so that the remaining charge was
aggravated child neglect resulting in serious bodily injury.
trial, Detective Jock Coleman with the Oak Ridge Police
Department testified that at approximately 9:00 p.m. on
Monday, November 24, 2008, he and LaToya Shepherd with the
Department of Children Services (DCS) went to East Tennessee
Children's Hospital (Children's Hospital) to see the
victim. A nurse directed Detective Coleman and Ms. Shepherd
to a room in the pediatric intensive care unit (ICU). When
Detective Coleman and Ms. Shepherd entered the room, they saw
the male victim, who appeared to be approximately ten months
old, lying quietly in a crib. He had injuries that appeared
to be burns on his fingers, leg, arm, and buttocks, and he
had bruising on his right ear. Detective Coleman took
photographs of the victim's injuries. The photographs
were shown to the jury.
Appellant was also in the victim's room. During a
conversation with Detective Coleman and Ms. Shepherd, the
Appellant said that the victim's date of birth was
January 4, 2008. She stated that when she woke the victim
from his nap on the night of Wednesday, November 19, she
noticed blisters on his right "pinkie" finger and
the toes of his left foot. She popped the blisters in an
attempt to make them go away. The next morning, she saw more
blisters on his lower left leg and his buttocks. She called a
doctor and was told to take him to a doctor or a hospital
that day, but she did not take the victim for treatment
because she did not have gas in her car and did not have
enough money to buy gas. Detective Coleman asked the
Appellant if she called an ambulance for the victim, and she
acknowledged that she did not. Detective Coleman asked how
the victim's injuries occurred. The Appellant responded
that on Wednesday night, she gave the victim a bath and that
the bath water "was a little warm." The Appellant
gave no further explanation for the victim's injuries.
Coleman said that the victim's injuries appeared to be a
"caustic burn." On Tuesday, November 25, he went to
the Appellant's residence on South Benedict Avenue in Oak
Ridge to see if he could find the substance that caused the
victim's injuries. In the bathroom, he found a bottle of
acid in a bowl and a bottle of glass cleaner on the counter
near the sink. He found disinfectant cleaner in a mop bucket
in the hall next to the bathroom and an empty bottle of
automatic transmission fluid in the living room. Detective
Coleman opined that the victim's injuries could have been
caused by any of the foregoing substances but that he never
discovered "to [his] satisfaction" what caused the
victim's burns. Detective Coleman also seized the
victim's car seat and the eye drops that were used to
treat the victim's "pink eye."
cross-examination, Detective Coleman recalled that the
Appellant explained she did not take the victim to the
hospital in Oak Ridge because of a negative experience there.
He remembered that the victim's eyes were swollen shut
and that the Appellant said she had given the victim the eye
drops for pink eye. Detective Coleman said that he and the
Appellant were neighbors in 2000, that ...