The 5-year-old Rhea County boy found dead Aug. 30 in a home north of Spring City had been forced to eat dish washing soap and cigarette butts when whippings didn't work.
The lithe little boy named Landon Robbins -- a student at Spring City Elementary School -- was being punished for not going to sleep, as were his two younger sisters.
That's according to testimony in a preliminary hearing Wednesday in Rhea County General Sessions Court for the boy's mother, Jessica Robbins, 29, and her boyfriend, 22-year-old Bradley Adcox, who both face charges of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse.
The couple's cases were bound over Wednesday to the October session of the grand jury after appearing before General Sessions Judge Jimmy McKenzie. McKenzie refused to set a bond for the couple.
Preliminary autopsy reports showed that the boy had bruising, blunt force trauma and contusions all over his head and face and a bite mark on his back. He had been forced to eat soap and cigarette butts, some of them found in his digestive tract.
According to testimony from the only witness called, Rhea County Sheriff's Detective Rocky Potter, Jessica Robbins told investigators that she and Adcox had known each other for "lots of years" but began living together over the summer at the 25-foot-long camper on Cawood Road. Adcox was filling the role as father for Landon and his two sisters, ages 3 and 4.
"He was the father figure. I let him do some spanking and set down the rules and be a father figure, which they had never had," Potter read from Robbins' statement.
There were no punishments for several days in late August, but Landon started having nightmares on Aug. 25 after watching a "scary movie" on television.
Robbins' statement described how events unfolded over the next few days.
"We both had whipped the kids for not going to sleep on time. But Landon would never take them seriously and he would laugh at us," the detective read. "Bradley hated to be laughed at, so he would whip him more and more."
On Wednesday Aug. 28, "Landon again would not go to sleep and Brad was irritated so he began beating him on the butt and the back of the legs. Again we just gave up. Landon laughed at us the whole time."
The next night, all three children stayed up an hour past their appointed 7:30 p.m. bedtime.
"We asked Landon what he wanted for punishment. He said, 'to eat cigarette butts.' The ashtray was on the counter so we let him pick up the butts and eat them. He had probably ate about five or six butts and he threw up on the floor.
"So I gave him a gallon jug of dish soap and made him take a big gulp. We sent him outside to run and play thinking maybe they would tire out."
The two girls chose a spanking and stayed in bed, but Landon stayed outside.
About 9:30, Landon came in with an injury to his nose. Adcox said that happened while the boy was running around the swing set and fell against a real estate sign that was leaning up against it, Potter read from the statement.
"He had a cut on his nose and he was bleeding. Landon threw up again before bed."
When Landon went to sleep that night, his mother told authorities that he told her and Adcox, "he loved us and we were the best parents he ever had."
The boy seemed to be becoming sicker, according to Robbins' statement. He was unable to control his bowels on several occasions through the night and into the morning, so he wasn't sent to school.
Jessica Robbins told police she checked on him again later and found he had another accident and had to clean him up.
"I jerked him up off the bed by his arm, but I didn't think I hurt him but maybe I did. I was aggravated as having to clean this up again."
Landon attempted to eat some breakfast and complained about pain in his arm.
The boy laid down again after he was given a Tylenol and told his mother, "I can't do this," according to Potter's reading of the statement. She asked what he meant, but Landon didn't know.
When she checked on him again 30 to 45 minutes later, he had stopped breathing.
Robbins said she tried CPR and when Adcox showed up early from work, he asked her if he should call 911.
Potter testified that Adcox told authorities in his statement that the children were punished for not going to sleep. When spankings didn't work, they were given soap from a "Mello Yello" bottle the "first five or six times" and afterward were given the soap directly from the bottle.
Adcox said the 5-year-old was "tough."
Adcox maintained his description of how the injuries happened with the sign and the swing set on Aug. 29, according to testimony.
Landon's paternal grandfather, Jerry Wells, said before the hearing that no punishment for Robbins and Adcox could be enough. Wells is the father of Gerald Wells, the boy's biological father.
Jerry Wells said Jessica Robbins "was a really sweet girl," but believes she changed once her path crossed Adcox's.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569.