Parents in Tenn. hot car toddler death charged with felony murder

GATLINBURG, Tenn. — The parents of a 2-year-old boy who died after being left in a vehicle overnight were arrested Monday on felony murder charges, according to a news release from Fourth District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn.

A grand jury returned presentments against 24-year-old Jade Elizabeth Phillips and 26-year-old Anthony Dyllan Phillips, charging them with first-degree murder committed in perpetration of aggravated child neglect, first-degree murder committed in the perpetration of aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect and aggravated child abuse, according to the release.

The Phillips were arrested in Westmoreland, Tenn. Each is being held in the Sumner County jail in lieu of a $250,000 bond. Their court dates have not yet been set.

Gatlinburg police found the Phillips' son, Kipp, dead around 2 p.m. on July 14, after one of the parents called 911 and reported they had left him in a vehicle overnight and into the afternoon as the temperature outside approached 90 degrees.

Authorities released little information about the case the following week, choosing to withhold the names of the child and the parents, the address where the child was found, and whether anyone had been taken into custody.

24-year-old Jade Elizabeth Phillips and 26-year-old Anthony Dyllan Phillips

The USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee first reported that the home where the child was found, 416 Laurel Ave., is owned by Jerry Kirkman, the mayor of Westmoreland, a small Middle Tennessee town with a population of about 2,200 people. Kirkman did not return a call on Monday evening.

Jade Phillips, the mayor's daughter, had been living in the house with her husband and their toddler son, said next-door neighbor Freeda Hall, who was out of town Friday when police arrived.

Jade Kirkman married Anthony Dyllan Phillips in March 2015, according to a wedding announcement published in the Gallatin News-Examiner.

Hall said the couple "seemed like good parents," and that they both worked at the Apple Barn in Sevierville on opposite shifts so they could take care of their son. A manager at the restaurant declined to comment Thursday.

Hall said the couple was friendly and offered to cut her yard and bring her food.

“They seemed like good people, but I guess you never know,” Hall said.

In a since-deleted Facebook post from July 14, a pastor at the Lakeside Church in Westmoreland wrote that Kirkman's 2-year-old grandson had passed away.

"There are no details to pass along," the post said. "They covet our prayers at this time more than anything. May the God of great grace and comfort surround their family."

Last week Gatlinburg Police Chief Randall Brackins said of the parents, "They were distraught, very upset. They were very unbelieving of what was occurring. They just couldn't believe it was happening."

The Phillips are charged under a section of the first-degree murder statute known as felony murder. Under that law, the state must only show the child was killed as a result of the felony crimes of abuse and neglect, not that they planned to kill the child.

There is no difference in penalty. A person convicted of felony murder is subject to the death penalty, life without parole or life with a mandatory 51-year prison term.

Every year, an average of 37 children die from being locked inside a hot car in the U.S, according to Kids and Cars, an advocacy center that conducts research on car-related dangers surrounding children. Since 1994, 804 children have died from heat-related illnesses in cars.

Preventing hot car deaths

The group offers these safety tips for parents and caregivers:

• Don’t leave your child in a car, which can quickly heat up, especially on a hot, sunny day.

• Always lock your car and secure the keys so that your kids can’t get to them at home.

• Warn your kids about playing in the car by themselves without adult supervision.

• Install a trunk release mechanism, so children can’t get trapped in the trunk.

• Make sure that childcare providers and day-care workers have a plan to ensure kids aren’t left in their cars or vans.

• Put a purse or briefcase in the backseat with your child so you’ll have to look behind you.

• Use reminder apps and sensor devices in addition to safety tips and common sense — not to replace them.

Contributing: Megan Boehnke, USA TODAY Network-Tennessee. Follow Travis Dorman on Twitter: @travdorman

Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel


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