The Hamilton County medical examiner is expected to testify today in a hearing for a 24-year-old woman whose 18-month-old daughter died under suspicious circumstances.
Traci Carpenter is charged with aggravated child neglect and faces a 15- to 25-year prison sentence if convicted. Prosecutors say Carpenter knew in April 2006 that her daughter Sierra Carpenter was being abused and failed to report it.
Carpenter and her boyfriend brought the child to the Dallas Bay Fire Department, seeking help when the girl stopped breathing. Sierra was taken to a local hospital and died two days later of what medical examiners deemed "blunt force trauma to the head" and other wounds.
In today's hearing on motions to limit or exclude evidence, Medical Examiner Dr. Frank King will be questioned by prosecutors and defense attorneys about evidence in Sierra's post-mortem medical examination. The hearing, held in Criminal Court, began Monday and continues today.
The trial for Carpenter, who is visibly pregnant, is set for Dec. 6.
A grand jury indicted Brian Rutherford, Carpenter's boyfriend at the time, on charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child neglect. Carpenter was indicted on a charge of aggravated child neglect.
Rutherford was found not guilty on both charges following a two-week trial in November 2008.
Executive Assistant District Attorney Neal Pinkston and Assistant District Attorney Cameron Williams argued in Criminal Court Tuesday that phone calls between Carpenter and Rutherford should be allowed as evidence.
When Carpenter said in a recorded phone call that she had no idea how her daughter's body was covered in bruises, even though there was a handprint on the child's chest, the statement was evidence of her neglect, Pinkston told Judge Don Poole.
"For her to say, 'I don't know what happened ...," Pinkston said.
But Bryan Hoss and Lee Davis, Carpenter's defense attorneys, argued that the recordings were inadmissible because Rutherford couldn't be cross-examined and he had a motive to blame Carpenter when he made the phone call because he feared being charged for abusing the child.
"There is nothing on that tape which is relevant to the indictment," Davis said. "If that tape comes in, we are trying a child homicide."
Carpenter and Rutherford brought Sierra to Dallas Bay firefighters on April 25, 2006, and said the child had breathing problems. One of the firefighters said that Rutherford told him, "The baby falls down a lot."
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...