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Parents arraigned on murder charges in hot-car death

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USA Today NetworkJamie Satterfield, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel
Published 3:59 p.m. ET July 31, 2017

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The parents of a 2-year-old boy who died after being left in a vehicle overnight were arrested on felony murder charges.
Michael Patrick/ USA Today Network – Tennessee

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. — The parents of a 2-year-old boy who died after being left in a vehicle overnight at the Gatlinburg home of a Tennessee mayor were arraigned Monday on felony murder charges.

Jade Elizabeth Phillips, 24, and her husband, Anthony Dyllan Phillips, 26, who were from Westmoreland, Tenn., appeared in Sevier County Criminal Court on three charges: felony murder, aggravated child abuse and aggravated neglect.

The couple is accused of causing the death of their son, Kipp, leaving the toddler inside a car overnight and into the afternoon of July 14 while temperatures climbed into the 90s. The child’s official cause of death has not been made public, but heat stroke often is the cause when babies and toddlers are left in hot cars.

The pair is not presenting a united front to Judge Rex Henry Ogle.

► Monday: 11 children dead; worst July for hot car deaths in nearly a decade
► Monday: Here’s how to prevent hot-car deaths
► Sunday: 2 babies die in Phoenix after being left in hot cars

Jade Phillips, daughter of Westmoreland Mayor Jerry Kirkman, has posted her $250,000 bond and has hired veteran Knoxville defense lawyer Tasha Blakney. She appeared in court Monday dressed in a black dress and gray sweater, her father seated beside her in the courtroom before Ogle took the bench.

Her husband was dressed in a black-and-white striped jail jumpsuit, unable to post bond. No one appeared on his behalf.

Anthony Dylan Phillips was arraigned July 31, 2017, in Sevier County Criminal Court in Sevierville, Tenn., connection with the July 14 hot-car death his toddler son in nearby Gatlinburg, Tenn. (Photo: Michael Patrick, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel)

Amber Haas, a veteran with the 4th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office, was appointed to represent him. Anthony Phillips cast a glance at his wife as she was leaving the courtroom.

She did not look in his direction and did not comment publicly. He returned to jail.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration designated Monday as National Heat Stroke Prevention Day. Hot-car deaths are second most common cause of vehicle deaths among children 14 and younger; the first is car crashes. 

The Fourth Judicial District attorney general, Jimmy Dunn, took the case against the couple to a grand jury earlier this month. No grand jury was scheduled to meet in Sevier County in July, but it was not immediately clear whether Dunn convened a special panel to decide charges against the couple.

Ogle set a Nov. 1 motions hearing. A trial date was not set Monday.

The Phillipses were arrested in Westmoreland after the grand jury issued a presentment, written notice that stating the body’s belief that a crime occurred and that indictment paperwork should be prepared.

Gatlinburg police found the Phillips’ son dead around 2 p.m. ET after one of the parents called 911 to report that Kipp had been left in a vehicle overnight and into the afternoon.

Initially, authorities were tight lipped about the case, refusing to reveal the names of the child and the parents, the address where the child was found, and whether anyone had been taken into custody.

►Tuesday: Parents in Tennessee hot car toddler death charged with felony murder
► July 19: 2-year-old found dead in car outside home owned by Tennessee mayor

The USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee first reported that Kirkman owned the home where the child was found. Westmoreland. population 2,200, is about 40 miles northeast of Nashville.

Jade Phillips had been living in the Gatlinburg house with her husband and their toddler son, according to next-door neighbor Freeda Hall.

She and her husband married in March 2015, according to a wedding announcement in the Gallatin (Tenn.) News-Examiner.

► July 18: 11-year-old’s invention could prevent hot car deaths
► July 13: 3 dogs locked in hot car die outside Iowa dog show

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

The penalties are not different. A person convicted of first-degree murder is subject to the death penalty, life without parole or life with a mandatory 51-year prison term.

Follow Jamie Satterfield on Twitter: @jamiescoop

Read or Share this story: https://usat.ly/2vmqPXa

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