Brianna Kwekel's 3-year-old son, Dakota, lies in the grave, beaten to death three months ago by her live-in boyfriend, Justin Bradley.
And in three more months, Kwekel will give birth to another child.
But action launched last week by the state could lead to the termination of her parental rights over that child, and, ultimately, criminal charges in connection with her boy's death.
Kwekel was not home the August night that Dakota Arndt was killed.
But investigators are looking at whether she bears some responsibility.
Evidence prepared by a state task force suggests that Kwekel, 23, may have failed to protect her son, according to an attorney who is involved in the case but insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak about it.
If authorities find sufficient evidence of failure to protect, Kwekel's parental rights could be in jeopardy when she gives birth to Bradley's child early next year in Michigan, where she has since moved.
Tyler Arndt, Dakota's biological father, who raised the boy in Michigan with Kwekel for more than two years, said last week's hearing regarding Kwekel's actions represents the justice he has been pleading for since his son's death.
"I don't want another kid to die like my son," Arndt said. "This hearing shows me that the state has not forgotten my son."
The hearing that began Nov. 14 in Hamilton County Juvenile Court is intended to determine whether Dakota experienced severe child abuse before his death, and if so, whether Kwekel failed to protect him.
Bradley, the lone suspect in the boy's death, hanged himself with a sheet in the Hamilton County Jail, weeks after his arrest on charges of criminal homicide.
At the hearing, the state presented three hours of evidence against Kwekel, said the attorney. The hearing is scheduled to continue Dec. 12, and Arndt has been asked to testify by phone.
Kwekel was not at last week's hearing and did not return calls for comment Thursday.
The allegation of failure to protect is not a criminal charge, but, depending on the outcome of the hearing, the district attorney's office could bring criminal charges.
Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston could not comment Thursday.
<p dir="ltr">Rob Johnson, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Children's Services, said charges of severe child abuse and failure to protect can make it difficult for a parent to keep custody of a child.</p><p dir="ltr">Johnson said the court's decision in this case will be communicated to Michigan.</p><p dir="ltr">Bob Wheaton, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Human Services, said that if charges of severe child abuse or failure to protect were substantiated in Tennessee against a Michigan parent, his state's Department of Children's Services would investigate.</p><p dir="ltr">"If we determine that the child who was born is at risk for abuse or neglect, we would file a petition with the court to terminate parental rights," Wheaton said.</p><p dir="ltr">Kathy Medenblik, who now lives in St. Louis, was a foster mom to Kwekel in Michigan and has been involved in her life for more than six years.</p><p dir="ltr">Medenblik remembers that Kwekel was both victim and perpetrator of abuse and violence throughout her teenage years.</p><p dir="ltr">When Kwekel became pregnant as a teenager, the state asked Medenblik and her family to legally adopt the child from the hospital in 2009, and they did.</p><p dir="ltr">Medenblik sees adoption as the best solution for the child due in a couple of months.</p><p dir="ltr">Medenblik said she worried about Dakota's safety from the day he was born.</p><p dir="ltr">"I just hope that the child she is pregnant with is born healthy," she said, "and that he doesn't have to live a life like Dakota."</p><p dir="ltr">Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6592.</p>