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WHAT THE JURY DECIDED
Two counts of felony murder: Guilty
Two counts of aggravated child neglect: Guilty
Four counts of initiation of manufacture of meth: Not guilty, but guilty on lesser charges of facilitation of manufactuing meth
One count of promotion of meth manufacture: Not guilty
The mother of two little boys who died from heat stroke last year may face life in prison after a jury found her guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated child neglect.
Tasha Bates, 27, waited until after the Bradley County jury of three women and nine men announced their verdict and left the room Thursday night before she broke down in quiet tears at the front of the courtroom.
She had spent several hours earlier in the day on the stand, testifying about the day she discovered her sons, 3-year-old River and 5-year-old Leland, unconscious on a 101-degree afternoon last summer.
While prosecutors and medical witnesses showed evidence that the boys would have had to have been inside Bates' car for their body temperatures to skyrocket to at least 104 and 109 degrees as recorded in medical reports, Bates continued to maintain that she found the boys lying outside of the car.
When prosecutor Stephen Hatchett grilled her about how that did not line up with evidence, Bates was staunch.
"I can't tell you anything but the truth," she said.
She also flatly denied any connection to the meth-making ingredients and traces found at her home by detectives several weeks after the boys died. While she admitted to smoking meth a couple times a month, including two days before the boys died, she said she never did it in front of the boys, and that it was never cooked at her home.
The jury found Bates not guilty on charges of promotion of meth or initiation of manufacturing meth, but found her guilty on lesser charges of the facilitation of making meth.
Bates' public defense attorney Richard Hughes also said the meth allegations were a big factor in the complexity of the case.
"I knew the jury would hear that she had meth in her system, that her version of events did not line up with medical proof . ... We knew that was going to make it difficult," he said. "But obviously we're disappointed in the verdict."
Given the magnitude of the convictions, there will be an appeal in the case, he said.
During his closing arguments, Hughes said that while Bates was irresponsible and immature as a mother, she would never have intentionally done anything to put the children in harm's way.
"The two children died due to a lack of supervision," he said, explaining how Bates could have been distracted and failed to supervise the boys even without the influence of meth.
There was not adequate evidence that the amount found in Bates' system was enough to impair her judgment at the time, or to prove that she was an addict, he said.
Hatchett argued that meth was at the very heart of the case. After the trial, he said that if meth had been "taken out of the equation," he believed the boys would still be alive.
"There's really no good that comes of these cases," said Hatchett after the verdict. "The jury did a good job, listened to evidence and returned a verdict they believed was just. ... The bigger issue here is that pseudoephedrine should be prescription only. This case was about meth, start to finish."
According to Bates' on-the-stand version of June 28 -- the day the boys died -- it was hot, but it seemed no hotter than any other day.
She and the boys got up and had breakfast before they ran to play outside like they always did. She claimed she went inside around noon and was cleaning for maybe an hour before she noticed she wasn't hearing the boys. She called for them outside, then discovered them in the yard.
She said she didn't call 9-1-1 because she didn't know her text-only phone had the capability, and she drove to her father's house down the road because in her panic she didn't know what else to do.
Hatchett proposed a different version of events.
He argued that Bates came home around 11 a.m. -- the time a neighbor testified she saw Bates' car pull into the driveway -- at which point he said Bates went inside and fell asleep. When she awoke, Hatchett said, she found the boys unconscious in the car and drove straight to her father's house so law enforcement wouldn't come to her house.
"Those boys were in that car," he said. "When she saw that, she knew she was in trouble."
The only direct look into June 28 was a harrowing recording the defense played of Mike Kile, Bates' father, calling 9-1-1 after Bates sped to his home with the unconscious boys in her back seat.
Bates wiped her eyes during the tape, and family members in the audience wept as they heard recordings of Bates' screams and Kile's frantic pleas for help.
Bates' parents and immediate family did not wish to speak with reporters after the trial. Her mother-in-law, Linda Bates, who has always said she felt Tasha Bates deserved justice, said through tears that she was heartbroken at the verdict.
"I would have preferred enough time for her to change her life," Linda Bates said. "The boys can't be brought back now. But it could have made a difference in her life. She could have just gotten enough time to help keep somebody else from going through what we've gone through."
Contact Kate Harrison at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.
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