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.