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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - A medical examiner ruled the boys died of overheating, likely from being left in a hot car
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: June 28, 2012
Date of arrest: July 18, 2012
Date of birth: 1986
Victims profile: Her two boys, Leland, 5 and River, 3
Method of murder: Hyperthermia (severe overheating of the body)
Location: Bradley County, Tennessee, USA
Status: Sentenced to two life terms in prison on November 25, 2013

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Bradley County judge sentences Tasha Bates to two life terms in deaths of her children

By Kate Harrison -

November 26, 2013

A tragedy that flared in scorching heat reached its culmination as weather forecasters called for snow over Bradley County.

Family members of Tasha Bates pulled their jackets close against the cold Tuesday as they walked out the doors of the county courthouse.

The frigid air only seemed to underscore the chill in the courtroom, where the 27-year-old mother sat emotionless as the judge read her sentence for murder: Not one life sentence, but two.

Bates was found guilty in August of two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her two boys, Leland, 5 and River, 3, who died of extreme overheating.

Their body temperatures reached at least 109 and 103 degrees inside a hot car in June 2012, though Bates repeatedly insisted on the stand that she discovered them lifeless in the yard after leaving them unsupervised for a short time.

While the jury gave Bates the heaviest possible verdict -- which automatically included life in prison -- Bates' family still trusted they would see her walk free one day. Perhaps she would be granted parole at an earlier stage, they hoped.

Bates' attorney Richard Hughes asked that Bates' life sentences be allowed to run concurrently, a proposal to which District Attorney Stephen Hatchett did not object.

"Justice can be accomplished with one life sentence," Hughes said. "That in no way diminishes the life of these children."

But Bradley County Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy staunchly disagreed.

"These are two people that were murdered. Two people. Two murders," Reedy said before handing down her decision.

The judge said the children were "introduced into a horrible place and around horrible goings-on, and around horrible activity."

During the trial, prosecutors showed evidence of meth making at the family's trash-strewn home.

Bates was also found guilty of aggravated child neglect and of facilitating the manufacture of meth -- convictions that amounted to a 40-year prison sentence that will run concurrently with her life sentences.

Life sentences in Tennessee call for at least 51 years behind bars.

Bates is still eligible for parole, but Hughes said the consecutive nature of the sentences essentially nullifies the chance of parole within her lifetime. The convictions appeal process -- which is automatic in a life sentence -- will begin next year.

"She is effectively facing life without parole," Hughes said.

Bates' charges and her sentence fall on the harshest end of the spectrum of legal consequences parents may face after deaths like River's and Leland's.

A 2007 Associated Press review of 310 vehicular heat deaths involving children nationwide found that charges were filed against parents or caregivers in 49 percent of the deaths, and 81 percent of those resulted in convictions.

Only half of those convictions brought jail sentences -- the median sentence being two years.

The AP also found that the harshest treatment is reserved for those who intentionally left their children. On average, those people received sentences that were 5 1/2 years longer.

In sentencing Bates, Reedy said she found her to be a "dangerous offender" whose behavior indicates "little or no regard for the human life of her two boys."

But McMinnville attorney Michael Galligan -- who 20 years ago defended another young woman whose little boys died of overheating in a car -- said he believed both the jury's first-degree murder verdicts and the judge's consecutive life sentences for Bates were "excessive."

"I'm not saying she is without guilt," Galligan said. "She may have been negligent, reckless in the deaths of her children. I'm simply saying she's being punished as someone who was intending to kill their children -- when it seems clear that was never the case."

Galligan said he worried that such a sentence "diminishes the criminal justice system."

"If you're going to do something like this [to someone] who didn't intend to kill the children, what are you going to give to someone who did? You've gone almost as far as you can go."

To serve out her sentence, Bates returns to Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville -- where she has been since the jury's verdict in August.

She has had a few visitors since then. Last month, her only surviving son, Skyler, met her at a table in the cafeteria-like room. For the first time in more than a year, the 10-year-old was able to hug her and talk to her in person. He sang her "Amazing Grace."

Linda Bates, who is the mother of Tasha Bates' ex-husband and Skyler's guardian, said the family has finally started to move on after River's and Leland's deaths. The holidays are not as hard as they were last year. She hopes to help Skyler start an anti-meth campaign to keep other parents from falling into the same spiral as his mother.

But while Linda Bates always said she wanted justice for the boys, she has been one of the most vocal advocates for leniency for Tasha Bates.

Before the sentencing hearing, prosecutors asked her to write a victim impact statement. In it, Linda Bates appealed for mercy from the judge. She tried to explain to the judge that her former daughter-in-law was never taught how to be a mother, and that she was dealing with depression at the time of the deaths.

She asked the judge to consider what kind of effect it would have on Skyler to never see his mother free again.

"For Skyler I felt like I had to write it," she explained.

On Monday, she sat alone at the edge of the bench in the courtroom, and left shortly after the judge handed down her sentence.

She drove home to tell Skyler, but when she pulled in the driveway, she still had no words to explain to the boy what had happened. How to explain justice and mercy and decisions that are hard to understand.

Instead, she backed out of the driveway and drove out through the browned fields and pastures to Moore's Chapel Cemetery.

There she prayed and waited, sitting by the little boys' graves in the cold.


Tasha Bates found guilty of first degree murder and aggravated child neglect

By Kate Harrison -

August 29, 2013

Tasha Bates is guilty of first degree murder and aggravated child neglect in her young sons’ deaths last year in a searingly hot automobile, a Bradley County jury decided Thursday evening.

Bates, 27, was charged with murder, child abuse and methamphetamine offenses in the deaths of 3-year-old River and 5-year-old Leland last year.

At her trial this week, prosecutors tried to portray her as a neglectful mother, living in a dirty, trash-filled home where prosecutors found traces of heroin and methamphetamine.

Bates’ attorneys argued that the evidence could be explained by others visiting the house who were involved with drugs.

One question hung behind the hundreds of others asked during the second day of a Bradley County murder trial:

What kind of mother was Tasha Bates?

The state rested its case Wednesday against Bates, a 27-year-old mother charged with murder, child abuse and meth offenses in last year's heat stroke deaths of her two young sons, 3-year-old River and 5-year-old Leland.

But not before prosecutor Stephen Hatchett showed slides of the cramped house where she lived with her boys, filled with trash and filth. He brought up drug investigators to explain how traces of methamphetamine and heroin were found inside Bates' garage, house and garbage.

Witness Jim Derry, a criminal analyst with Tennessee's meth task force, called Bates' house a "classic meth lab."

But that's not enough to show what kind of mother Bates was, or whether any of her actions were linked to her sons' deaths, Bates' defense attorneys Richard Hughes and Keith Roberts argued.

They raised doubts about how old the drug-related materials could be, and whether there was any way they could be directly linked to Bates. They claimed that many people came and went on the property who were involved in drug activity.

They brought up Bates' mother, Sandy Keith, to explain how the divorced Bates had no job or child support when she moved into Keith's trailer in early 2012.

At one point Roberts asked Bates' aunt, Tracy Honey, to assess Bates' abilities as a mother.

"Tasha was the best mother she knew how to be," Honey said in tears. "Growing up, she never had that childhood. ... She didn't have the stability that she should have had."

Honey was with Bates at the hospitals where each child died, and helped transport the mother to detectives who wanted to question her first after River passed away, then again after Leland's death.

Bates was in no state for questioning, Honey said.

"Any mother that's lost her flesh and blood is not in her right mind," she said.

When pressed by prosecutors about whether Tasha may have lied about the boys, Honey couldn't say.

"There's two people who know the truth," she said. "The good Lord and Tasha."

Much of the morning's testimony centered on heat: How 101-degree temperatures on June 28 could have affected a car and the boys' bodies.

Jan Null, a San Francisco meteorologist who specializes in vehicular overheating deaths, explained how a car acts "like a greenhouse" -- rapidly radiating heat.

On a 103-degree afternoon, the car's interior could have spiked to 120 degrees within 10 minutes, and 144 degrees within an hour.

Roberts challenged Null's credentials, demanding how much his traveling to testify cost taxpayers and at one point asking with disbelief: "[The state] wanted you to come to Tennessee and tell us how a car heats up in the summer?"

Bates has claimed that she found the boys unconscious outside the car after leaving them unattended for 45 minutes -- though prosecutors say she confessed in interviews that she discovered them inside the car.

Defense attorneys have asked about hypothetical scenarios involving both locations, proposing that the boys may have been overheated from playing outside before possibly climbing in the car to play, or overheated before possibly climbing out of the car.

Prosecutors brought up forensic pathologist Dr. Steven Cogswell to explain that the boys' core temperatures -- at least 109 and 104 degrees -- could not have gotten so high from playing outside.

Earlier, sheriff's office investigator Monica Gatz testified about the condition of Bates' Toyota Corolla. She said that the handles of only one door worked properly from both in the interior and exterior. Another door could be opened from the inside by pulling a broken piece.

But the boys' grandmother said the boys knew how to work even the broken doors. They played in cars often, she said. River even knew how to start the ignition.

The circumstances puzzled Cogswell, who said it's possible the boys could have fallen asleep when it was cooler and just not awakened as the oven-like car heated, or they could have heated up rapidly and been unable to get out. Even kids have the instinct to find coolness when they're overheated, he said.

"We always ask two questions in environmental deaths: Why did this person get into trouble? And why couldn't they get themselves out of it?" he said. "Why couldn't [the boys] save themselves? What's preventing them from getting out of the car? That's the question."

The defense will present its arguments today.


Natasha Bates murder trial enters second day

By Greg Kaylor -

August 27, 2013

A jury was chosen before noon Tuesday and the trial for a woman charged with the first-degree murder of her children got underway.

Opening statements by the prosecution and defense led the way in the alleged child/neglect, heat-related deaths of River and Leland Bates, who were 3 and 5 years old, respectively. Natasha Bates faces life in prison for their deaths in a case which hinges on alleged methamphetamine manufacture and use, according to Assistant District Attorney General Stephen Hatchett, who is prosecuting the case.

Also introduced into evidence was testing of the temperatures inside the car, which reached 129 degrees during a controlled experiment by detectives.

Tenth Judicial District Public Defender Richard Hughes, in opening, said there was confusion in the initial call for help on June 28, 2012, when the temperatures rose markedly above 100 degrees. He added that the children played outside all the time and the two boys at some point suffered the effects of heat-stroke/hyperthermia, and Bates found them inside her car. Hughes also noted the children had been playing earlier on a Slip-n-Slide and Bates had gone inside the mobile home where she and the boys were living.

Hatchett said conflicting statements given by Bates throughout the course of Detective Dewayne Scoggins’ investigation are key to the prosecution.

Emergency responders rushed to the Armstrong Road residence of Bates’ father, where she had taken the boys after reportedly discovering them unresponsive inside her car. Bates and the children lived at a Keith Valley Road address, where her mother, who is an over-the-road truck driver, resided on occasion.

When responders arrived on the scene at Armstrong Road, the children’s grandfather was performing CPR. River Bates died a short time later at SkyRidge Medical Center, according to Dr. Jeffrey Miller, attending Emergency Room physician and Bradley County medical examiner.

Miller said River’s body core temperature was 109 degrees, and autopsy later revealed the child had no food in his stomach.

Leland Bates was flown to Erlanger Medical Center’s T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital and died later. Reports indicated his body core temperature was 103 degrees upon arrival.

Testimony began with Bradley County Emergency Medical Service paramedic Nick Laney, who stated he observed the children, who were wet when he arrived.

The initial 911 call to dispatchers, by Mike Kile, the children’s grandfather, indicated the children had possibly drowned.

Kile also indicated the children were “red” in color. He then told 911 dispatcher Kris Willis the children were turning purple.

In a 911 tape, Kile asked Bates if the boys had been playing on the water toy. According to reports, the audio portion of the conversation was inaudible, but Bates could be heard crying in the background.

As the investigation continued, Scoggins said Tuesday on the witness stand that Bates’s story changed several times.

Evidence found during searches of the property, consisting of the mobile home and a garage, revealed alleged manufacturing and use of methamphetamine.

“She changed her story several times, finally admitting the children were in the car when she found them,” Hatchett said.

“She also said she had fed them, but the autopsy revealed no food in their stomachs,” he added.

Hughes said Bates was a single parent, had no job and was going through a difficult time.

“Her mother allowed her to live at the trailer and she had occupied it for about a month,” Hughes said.

“We believe the proof will show that neighbors were the ones who produced meth. Other people had access to the property,” Hughes explained.

“She couldn’t dial 911. Her cell phone was ‘text only.’ She ... went to her car and opened the trunk. She heard a noise, dropped her phone inside the trunk,” said Hughes after questions arose why Bates didn’t call for help to their Keith Valley residence.

Scoggins located the phone inside the vehicle’s trunk and it was opened as if a call or text was being made, according to Hughes.

During a controlled experiment to see how hot the inside of the vehicle may have gotten, investigators learned that on a 101 degree day, eight thermometers recorded a temperature of 129 degrees.

When Bates found her children, River was in the front seat and Leland was partially inside the car. Both were on the passenger side of the vehicle, according to testimony from Scoggins.

During the experiment, thermometers were placed inside the car in various places, including where the children were reportedly positioned.

The car was also parked in the same position and location, and exterior thermometers were placed to record the ambient outside temperature.

Scoggins said the data was collected in half-hour increments and a spreadsheet was created indicating the temperature at each position.

On the cellphone Bates had dropped inside the car, Scoggins said there was conversation in text, indicating drug activity.

That along with other evidence led detectives to get a search warrant where evidence was located in garbage bags and personal items owned by Bates, indicating drug manufacture and use, according to his testimony.

Today, the jury of nine men and three women, not including alternates, are expected to hear testimony from a forensic pathologist.

Hatchett said this morning that the state should close its case today and Hughes will be presenting Bates’ defense.


Murder trial for Tasha Bates in the deaths of her children to begin in Bradley County

By Kate Harrison -

August 26, 2013

Court is always different when it concerns little ones.

As attorneys, families, potential jury members and a 27-year-old mother brace themselves for a high-profile Bradley County murder trial this week, they know the reality that the victims were 5- and 3-year-old boys will alter the dimensions of the courtroom.

That affects how juries are picked, how evidence is presented, the tenor in which witnesses testify, and how closely the media watches. It adds a weight that can be hard for even the veterans of the justice system to bear.

"It's such a tragic case, because you have little children involved. It's so sad for everyone. The tragedy of any of these cases ... it's just awful," said McMinn-ville, Tenn., attorney Michael Galligan.

Galligan defended a woman 20 years ago against charges very similar to those facing Tasha Bates, the Cleveland, Tenn., woman who faces murder and methamphetamine charges after her two sons, 5-year-old Leland and 3-year-old River, died of hyperthermia -- severe overheating of the body -- last summer.

Jury selection for Bates' trial starts Tuesday.

Bates, who has been in jail without bond for more than a year, will be tried before Bradley County Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy.

Bates has told officials that she left the children outside unattended on a Slip 'N Slide in the 101-degree heat, and when she found them 45 minutes later, they were unconscious.

But Bradley County sheriff's investigators and a grand jury have said the boys' autopsies show they suffered fatal injuries in a searing hot car, and police said evidence showed that Bates had cooked and used meth.

The high level of media attention is something Bates' appointed attorney says concerned him.

"In every case that I try, I'm looking for a jury that will keep an open mind, regardless of what they have seen or read, that they will decide the case based on the evidence that is presented," said 10th Judicial District Public Defender Richard Hughes, who, along with attorney Keith Roberts, will defend Bates.

"In any case where there's been media coverage, the attorney has the responsibility to address that, to ask jurors if they've already formed an opinion."

Galligan said another likely factor attorneys will mull during jury selection is how many jurors are parents.

"That's hard picking a jury," Galligan said. "You clearly don't want any soccer moms on that jury. You want someone who's open-minded. I think that's just a hard, hard case."

Galligan was the attorney for Jennie Bain Ducker, a McMinnville, Tenn., mother who was tried in 1995 for first-degree murder in the overheating deaths of her two toddlers, Dustin, 1, and Devin, 2.

Ducker, 20 at the time, had left them strapped in the vehicle while she went to visit her boyfriend at a motel, where she fell asleep until the middle of the following day.

The jury ultimately convicted her of aggravated child abuse, and she was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Ducker's sentence was completed early in 2008, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.

Galligan said the fact that his client was accused of drinking and partying limited any sympathy from the jury.

"You see these cases all the time where a mom thinks she's dropped off [her children] at school and she accidentally leaves them in the car. A momentary lapse. A jury isn't inclined to do much there. But when you add drinking ... and not waking up till noon and that doesn't play very well to the jury."

Bradley County Assistant District Attorney Stephen Hatchett, who is prosecuting Bates' case, previously has said that the case is also about more than simple neglect.

"If the child's sleeping quietly, and you run into the store and forget about the child -- you, me, anybody can do that," he said. "If you have a parent who has put themselves in a position where they're not keeping their eyes on their child through something like drug use -- that is a completely different analysis."

Hughes has said previously there are many facts of the case that have yet to be presented.

Galligan also said there are many unanswered questions surrounding what has been reported so far. If he were defending Bates, he said, he would ask about the possibility of the kids somehow getting into a hot car themselves.

"You definitely will want to see evidence about how long it takes for the heat of that car to become lethal," he said.

A 2007 Associated Press report found that charges were filed in 49 percent of all vehicular hyperthermic deaths, and 81 percent resulted in convictions. Drug- and alcohol-related cases like Bates' are also rare -- occurring in only 7 percent of children's heat-related deaths in vehicles.

If convicted, Bates could face life in prison for the felony murder charge, between 15 and 25 years for aggravated child neglect, and eight and 12 years for the meth charges.


Bradley County boys' core temperatures rose past 105

By Kate Harrison -

July 12, 2012

Paramedics, doctors and nurses "pulled out every trick they could think of" in desperate attempts to cool two young brothers' bodies that had reached or surpassed core temperatures of 105 degrees on June 28, according to the Bradley County Medical Examiner's office.

But the dozens of medical staff surrounding 5-year-old Leland and 3-year-old River Bates, the CPR, the organ-stabilizing medications and the gallons of cooling fluids pumped into the boys' bodies all were too late.

River was gone within 45 minutes after his mother's first call to 911 at 2:44 p.m. Family members say Leland was declared brain-dead that night.

Eric Blach, lead investigator with the medical examiner's office, could not release the boys' exact core temperatures. He said the hospitals that treated the boys recorded the temperatures, so the information is confidential.

That information and the boys' toxicology reports are now being analyzed at the state level.

Bradley County Sheriff's Office spokesman Bob Gault said Wednesday there was no new information in the investigation, but that detectives still are compiling information and conducting interviews.

The boys' mother, Tasha Moses, initially told first responders she thought the boys had drowned. She later told investigators she left the boys unattended outside their rural Cleveland, Tenn., home in 101-degree heat, and found them unconscious 45 minutes later.

Recordings of the 911 calls have not yet been made available because of the pending investigation.

Moses drove them more than 1.5 miles to her father's house before calling 911, saying she didn't have a working phone at her house.

Medics detected a pulse while treating Leland, so he was flown to Children's Hospital at Erlanger for treatment.

But River's condition was too delicate. More than a dozen medical staff members and even a surgeon crowded into the SkyRidge Medical Center emergency room to try to save him, Blach said.

"They were doing absolutely everything they could to keep the body cool," he said.

Blach said cases of hyperthermia -- the cause of death for both boys -- are "exceedingly rare" in Bradley County.

The county medical examiner, Dr. Jeffrey Miller, has described hyperthermia as having a "cascading effect." Once extreme heat damages the brain, other vital organs aren't able to function and the body begins to shut down.

"He was basically gone by the time he got there [to the hospital]," said the boys' paternal grandmother, Linda Bates. After viewing the 3-year-old's lifeless body that day she went to Children's Hospital to be with Leland.

The boys' parents are divorced, but both of them and other family members were able to hold and say goodbye to the comatose Leland before he slipped away.

"It just seemed so pitiful just to watch him," Bates said through tears Wednesday. "I just told him I loved him."

Bates and other family members say the maternal and paternal sides of the boys' families -- which used to coordinate schedules to make sure the boys were being cared for -- have been split apart since their deaths.

"There's a lot of hearsay going around, and it's hard to know exactly what happened," said the boys' great-great-grandmother, Debbie Burgess. "And everyone is just so sad. Both just gone so quick -- at the same time."



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