Grandmother gets probation after pleading guilty in grandchild's hot car death

Barbara Michelle Pemberton

CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. - A woman who left her grandchild unattended in her car until he died will not go to prison.

Barbara Pemberton, 48, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Walker County Superior Court on Monday, receiving a sentence of 10 years on probation. According to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation report at the time, Pemberton left 1-year-old Shadoe Braxton Pate in a car seat with the heat on full blast for five hours in January 2016.

The baby's core temperature rose to 108 degrees, according to the report.

Pemberton, who lives in the Kensington community off Hog Jowl Road, declined to comment on the plea deal Tuesday morning, only saying, "We just want peace and a chance to grieve right now."

photo Barbara Michelle Pemberton

In a statement, District Attorney Herbert "Buzz" Franklin gave two reasons for not pushing for a prison sentence. He said the baby's parents did not want Pemberton to be incarcerated. Also, she suffers from sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disorder that can cause inflammation in the lungs, lymph nodes, eyes and skin. The severity of the condition varies depending on the person, with symptoms sometimes lasting for years. According to the Mayo Clinic, the disorder can cause fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing or blurred vision.

On Tuesday morning, no one answered the door at an address listed last year for the baby's parents.

In addition to the probation sentence, Pemberton will have to pay about $3,400 in fines and court costs, plus $132 a month to the victim's compensation fund. She also can't be the sole custodian or even supervise a child under the age of 10.

Last year, Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said Pemberton often took care of Braxton because the baby's parents worked. On Jan. 12, 2016, she had breakfast with her daughter before driving Braxton to her friend's home in Rossville.

"It was an unusually warm, January day," Wilson said.

He said Pemberton left Braxton in a car while she visited her friends. She kept the Ford Focus running with the heat on for about five hours. Wilson said Pemberton told investigators she lost track of time. Meanwhile, he said, her friends claimed they suggested two or three times throughout the afternoon that Pemberton should check on Braxton.

Around 4:20 p.m., she returned to the car and found him unresponsive. She and her friends attempted CPR, and paramedics rushed Braxton to Hutcheson Medical Center. But a doctor declared the baby dead soon after.

"There's not been a reasonable explanation [for not checking on the baby sooner]," Wilson said at the time.

The charge of second-degree murder occurs in Georgia when someone dies as the result of a cruelty to children offense. It does not factor in whether the accused meant to cause harm. With a conviction, the charge carries a 10- to 30-year prison sentence.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.