A jury of nine men and three women found Natasha Moses Bates guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated child neglect Thursday evening at the Bradley County Justice Center.
At 4:15 p.m. Thursday, Bradley County Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy released the jury to deliberate in the case against Bates, 27, who was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated child neglect, four counts of initiating methamphetamine manufacturing, and promotion of manufacturing meth at her Keith Valley Road residence.
Natasha Bates took the stand in her own defense.
The jury returned to announce the verdict at 7:30 p.m., three hours and 15 minutes after members’ initial dismissal to discuss the three days of testimony. Assistant District Attorney General Stephen Hatchett commended jury members on their focus throughout the court proceedings.
“They took a lot of notes. They were attentive. It was a difficult case as far as the proof goes. You have these two children who died and [Bates] was ably represented by the counselor [Public Defender Richard Hughes],” Hatchett said. “I think the justice system did exactly what it is supposed to do. She had a fair trial and she received a verdict consistent with the evidence.”
He said the overall issue, and his overall reaction, is that something needs to be done about meth.
“We have got to address the meth problem. That is what this case was. This case was about meth and if we don’t confront head-on the meth epidemic, there is no hope,” Hatchett said. “It is not going to get any better.”
Hughes could not be reached for comment as of press time this morning.
Sentencing is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 25, with Bates facing the potential of life in prison.
River Bates, 3, and Leland Bates, 5, were found to have died as the result of what investigators alleged — being inside a hot car on a day when temperatures rose above 100 degrees.
Their body-core temperatures were more than 104 degrees and officials believed Bates had been sleeping due to previous meth use and left the children unattended. Investigators believed the children were inside the car and not outside on the ground where Bates said they were when she discovered them unconscious on June 28, 2012, during an extreme heat wave which struck Tennessee and other states.
On Wednesday, the defense took over to present their case.
Hughes engaged Bates during direct questioning.
Bates said she had been outside with the children earlier in the morning as they played on a Slip-N-Slide water toy.
The family had been living inside a garage area, according to Bates’ testimony and statements to Detective Dewayne Scoggins.
But, her story changed several times regarding where the children were located that day.
Eventually, Bates told Scoggins they were inside the car, but during questioning Thursday, she said they were lying outside the car.
She hadn’t noticed them lying on the ground as she went to retrieve clothing from the trunk of her car, according to her testimony.
Hatchett showed photos to the jury and Bates as she testified to the scene and the whereabouts of the children.
She contended she had opened the trunk while texting and heard Leland Bates, then saw her children on the ground. She told Scoggins she dropped her phone and ran to her children.
She then transported them to her father’s home on Armstrong Road, where he performed CPR until emergency services arrived.
Both were taken to area hospitals where they later died.
Leland’s body-core temperature was 104.
River’s core temperature was recorded at 109, according to Dr. Jeffrey Miller of SkyRidge Medical Center, who testified Tuesday.
Investigators began their investigation and then went back to the home later to serve a search warrant. Components and alleged evidence of meth production and use were discovered and logged into evidence.
Bates was charged July 18, 2012, with the felony murders as well as the meth charges.
“This is a meth case,” Hatchett told the jury during closing.
“The defendant didn’t tell the truth! Why? Because of meth,” stated Hatchett.
“She had admitted to meth use. She came out and found the kids in the car and said to herself … ‘I’m in trouble,’” Hatchett told the jurors.
“We didn’t hear of any other stories where kids died from the heat in Bradley County while playing outside. Those little boys were in that car,” Hatchett said.
“Then she takes them to her dad’s. Why? … to keep law enforcement away from her house,” he added, leading up to the alleged meth components found inside the garage and a dumpster nearby.
“Detective Scoggins wanted to find the truth,” Hatchett added.
Bates denied meth production throughout her testimony but Hatchett showed the jury photos of lithium strips which are used in its production, along with cigarette packs in garbage bags.
The same brand of cigarettes was pictured in Bates’ car and on a bed.
“The state was required to prove she killed those two boys. She was asleep when they got in the car and died. That’s aggravated child neglect,” Hatchett said during his closing statement.
Bates denied smoking meth the previous night, but did admit to smoking marijuana.
Hughes asked Bates where she and one of her acquaintances had smoked the marijuana.
“Outside the garage,” she answered.
“Where were your children?” Hatchett asked.
“Inside the garage,” she said.
“Where all this meth paraphernalia was?”
Bates answered “yes,” to the question.
Bates and the children reportedly had a pizza for dinner the night before as well.
“Where did you eat pizza?” asked Hatchett.
“In the garage,” she answered.
“Right there where they found meth foil on the 28th” [of June]?
Bates said “yes.”
Regarding the day the children were found, Hughes questioned Bates about the weather conditions.
“You knew it was hot that day?” he asked.
“Yes, but it was always hot,” Bates said.
The family stayed in the garage because it was reportedly cooler than the mobile home they were living in.
“Were you ‘geeking’ high on meth the night before? Hughes asked.
Bates said “no.”
She also alleged she wasn’t an addict and didn’t use the drug often.
“How often?” Hughes asked.
“Maybe once or twice a month and maybe not even every month,” answered Bates.
A slight amount of meth showed up in drug screens, but marijuana was not measurable in her blood stream, according to evidentiary testimony.
When asked what she did after allegedly smoking the marijuana, Hughes asked Bates what she did then on the night of June 27. She had taken the person who had allegedly smoked the marijuana with her to his home.
Bates said she laid down between her children and watched a movie with Leland.
On the morning of the deaths, Bates said a person stopped by and the children got up and went outside.
Bates contended it was between 7 and 8 a.m.
She had fixed the children eggs and then went back outside with them, stating she had hooked a water hose to the water-slide toy so they could play.
Bates said the children also played in other areas of the yard that morning and she had been sitting in a chair nearby.
At one point, she stated she attempted to get them to come inside for lunch, but they wanted to stay outside, according to her testimony.
She also stated they liked playing inside the car and that there were always toys in the car for when the family went somewhere by car where no other children were present.
Bates said her car door locks were not functional … that they may lock but she was unsure if she could use a key to unlock them.
Eventually, Bates said she decided to clean the house and testified she left the children outside to play, stating that she would check on them occasionally through a bedroom window.
She stated she could hear them as well.
Through evidentiary pictures, Hatchett questioned Bates about the disarray of the house and garage, presenting to the jury that she was not cleaning as she had stated, but asleep.
“What were you cleaning?” he asked.
Bates said she was arranging toys and clothing inside the mobile home.
She stated she lost track of time.
In previous testimony, a neighbor stated Bates’ vehicle had entered the driveway that day at 11:10 a.m.
“We didn’t go anywhere that day until I was taking the kids to my dad’s,” she answered, reflecting on allegedly discovering them lying in the yard unresponsive.
“I didn’t leave them in the car,” she said.
During closing, Hughes told the jurors Bates experienced the difficulties of being a single parent.
“Is she a bad mother? Yes, in ways. She is an immature person and has a lack of responsibility. The state has relied on meth. There is no question she used it,” Hughes said, “but she wasn’t a full-blown addict.
“When they [law enforcement] talked to her, she didn’t appear to be impaired to them, and [as for] a lack of texting, she didn’t want to answer,” texts made to her, Hughes explained.
The prosecution had documented texts on her cellphone which indicated lapses in time over a three-day period around the time of the deaths where Bates didn’t respond to texts.
“She is a flawed person, and an irresponsible parent, but she loved her children. They can’t prove she was impaired from drugs,” Hughes said.
“They can’t prove she had drugs in her system,” he added.
In rebuttal, Hatchett said simply, “It matters if she lied. The truth matters.”
“The truth matters if she found them in that car. It matters. Those two little boys deserve truth and justice. It matters,” Hatchett said.