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State v. Lopez

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville

March 13, 2018


          Session September 19, 2017

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Anderson County, No. B2C0443B Donald R. Elledge, Judge

         An 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.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Kevin 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 of Tennessee.

          Norma McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which Robert W. Wedemeyer and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.



         I. Factual Background

         On July 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, [1] 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.

         At 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.

         The 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.

         Detective 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."

         On 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 ...

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