Bradley County judge
sentences Tasha Bates to two life terms in deaths of her children
By Kate Harrison - TimesFreePress.com
November 26, 2013
A tragedy that flared in scorching heat reached
its culmination as weather forecasters called for snow over
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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 - TimesFreePress.com
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
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
Bates’ attorneys argued that the evidence could
be explained by others visiting the house who were involved with
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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 - ClevelandBanner.com
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
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
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
Kile also indicated the children were “red” in
color. He then told 911 dispatcher Kris Willis the children were
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
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,”
“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
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
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
Hatchett said this morning that the state
should close its case today and Hughes will be presenting Bates’
Murder trial for Tasha Bates
in the deaths of her children to begin in Bradley County
By Kate Harrison - TimesFreePress.com
August 26, 2013
Court is always different when it concerns
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
Bradley County boys' core
temperatures rose past 105
By Kate Harrison - TimesFreePress.com
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,
"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
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."