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Authorities say photographs taken at the scene of a 5-year-old Rhea County, Tenn., boy's death Friday showed more injuries than his mother and her boyfriend told investigators he had received in an accidental fall.
Bradley Adcox, 22, and Jessica Robbins, 29, initially were charged over the holiday weekend with aggravated child abuse and neglect in the death of 5-year-old Landon Robbins. The child is Jessica Robbins' son.
Now, the pair face new charges of felony first-degree murder after preliminary autopsy results were released on Monday, according to Rhea County authorities.
The mother and her boyfriend are being held without bond until an arraignment in Rhea County General Sessions Court set for Friday, Special Projects Officer Jeff Knight said.
Landon Robbins died of "multiple blunt-force trauma," Rhea County Sheriff's Office Investigator Rocky Potter said. Adcox had made the 911 call about 1:30 p.m. Friday to report the boy was not breathing.
The boy died at a camper on Cawood Lane that was set up as a permanent residence, Potter said.
Two girls, ages 3 and 4, also lived at the camper home. Both girls, believed by authorities to be half-sisters of Landon Robbins, were released to other family members, Potter said. The girls are not related to Adcox, he said.
The camper was in such a condition that the children might have been temporarily removed for the adults to address hot-water issues and clean up the place, but nothing about the condition of the home would have led to charges, Potter said.
Potter said Robbins and Adcox had been in a relationship since last September and had been living in Spring City together along with the children since school started.
Authorities said ambulance personnel tried to revive the boy before law enforcement officials got there, but once his death was confirmed, "we converted to a death scene investigation," Potter said.
Robbins and Adcox's accounts of the accident and the boy's injuries didn't add up, Potter said.
"As we were photographing the body, there was an injury that was consistent with a fall in the back yard, [but] there were other injuries we didn't feel were consistent with a fall," the investigator said. "But we still treated it as an accident."
Potter said his heightened suspicions were mirrored by Rhea County Medical Examiner Dr. Beth Casady and 12th Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor. Taylor ordered that an autopsy be performed in Knoxville.
Information relayed from the pathologist through the weekend prompted a follow-up interview with Robbins and Adcox on Sunday, he said.
"With the evidence I had and with their statements, I decided at that time to charge them with aggravated child abuse and neglect," Potter said.
The preliminary autopsy report was released to investigators on Monday, he said. On Tuesday, Taylor told officers to add the homicide charges.
Potter would not elaborate on the details of the report that resulted in the new charges.
Potter and Knight, both 20-year law enforcement veterans, said they had never encountered such a troubling case.
"It's the worst I've seen," Potter said Tuesday.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or 423-757-6569.