The medical examiner who did the autopsies of two young Bradley County brothers who died from over-heating on June 28, 2012, said there are a number of questions about why the children were in a blazing hot vehicle.
Dr. Steven Cogswell, Knoxville's deputy chief medical examiner, said the car on a 101-degree day "would literally have been like a hot oven." He said, "The question is why would you climb into that on purpose?"
He testified in the case in which Tasha Bates, mother of Leland and River Bates, is standing trial on two counts of murder. She also faces drug charges.
The state closed its proof shortly after 3 p.m. Judge Amy Reedy said the defense has 2-3 more witnesses, and the case should be concluded on Thursday.
The first defense witnesses, Ms. Bates' mother Sandra Keith, said her daughter was "a very patient, loving mother."
She said, "She would sit and watch movies with them and would read to them."
But prosecutor Stephen Hatchett showed Ms. Keith a text where Ms. Bates had referred to the boys as "the little turds." Ms. Keith said the boys "were very active. They were into everything."
She said they were very familiar with Ms. Bates' car and how to get in and out of it. She said they would often play in it. She said when the younger boy was two he got the key and started the car. She said she could not manipulate the make-shift handles on the vehicles, but the boys would open it for her.
The prosecutor said one handle was missing entirely and others were broken. He said only one inside handle worked properly.
Ms. Keith said she moved out of the residence several months before the incident. She said she had brought in a dumpster to take care of trash that was accumulating inside. She said, when shown pictures of the rundown interior, that it had not been that trashy when she left. She did say that the bathtub was not working when she was there.
She said the double-wide trailer had two window air conditioners, but they were not enough to cool the place.
Ms. Keith, who said she was driving a truck in Louisiana when she got word about the incident, said her daughter told her she found the boys outside.
Ms. Keith said the father of the boys, Jonathan Bates, very rarely saw the boys and did not provide any support. She said the father of Ms. Bates, likewise gave no support. She said she had ordered Jonathan Bates to leave her residence. She said her daughter went with, "but she was back within a week." She said Ms. Bates had worked 2-3 years at Petco, but lost her job at the time of the 2011 tornado.
Tracy Honey, aunt of Ms. Bates, said she got a call from the defendant's mother (her sister) around 3:30 or 4 p.m. on June 28, 2012, telling her what happened. She said, "I immediately called my husband and told him what happened, then we rushed to Skyridge."
She said after River Bates was declared dead, "Tasha was pretty frantic. She was screaming and crying. She had just lost her baby."
She said Det. Dewayne Scoggins asked that Ms. Bates accompany him back to the trailer - though the other son, Leland, was still alive at Children's Hospital in Chattanooga. She said she went along as they went to the site of the incident. She said Ms. Bates took them to a spot in front of the trailer where she said she found the children. She said a plastic cup was nearby.
The witness said they then were allowed to go visit Leland. She said after he was taken off life support the next day, Det. Scruggs asked Ms. Bates for an interview at the sheriff's office. Ms. Honey stated, "She didn't want to go back to talk to them. She just lost two babies."
She said she visited the trailer where the incident happened earlier in 2012 and found it to be "nasty, messy."
She said Ms. Bates "did love her children. She was the best mother she knew how to be. She had a lot on her plate as a child. She didn't have the stability she should have. Sandy (mother of Ms. Bates) was not the best mother she should have been. She had a whole lot of room to be a much better mother than she was."
Asked if she did not want to know the truth of what happened, she said, "There's two people that know - the Good Lord and Tasha."
Dr. Cogswell said, "Why didn't they just get out of the car? Wow, it's hot in here. What's preventing them from getting out of the car - that's the question."
He added, "Why did they stay in the car? Did they not know how to work the locks? Were they told to 'stay in the car until I get back'?"
Dr. Cogswell said the body temperature of three and a half-year-old River was 109 degrees when he got to a Cleveland Hospital and the body temperature of Leland was 104 degrees when he got to Children's Hospital in Chattanooga. He said above 104 degrees "a number of body functions don't work properly."
He said heat levels inside a vehicle with all the windows up can rise over 40 degrees in an hour.
He said the children would not have gotten so hot just from playing outside.
The prosecution also called Jan Null, a San Francisco meteorologist who said he has studied the deaths of children in hot cars since 2005.
He said the heat rises about 19 degrees in the first 10 minutes in a closed vehicle and goes up 34 degrees in half an hour. He said it can rise as high as 50 degrees.
Defense attorney Keith Roberts questioned his credentials and asked, "He (the prosecutor) wanted you to come to Tennessee and tell us how a car gets hot in the summertime?"
He also asked how much his testimony "cost the taxpayers of Tennessee."
The witness said it was $5,000 for his services and $780 for travel.
The next door neighbor to Ms. Bates said she was driving by at 11:10 a.m. on the day of the incident when she saw the Bates car pulling in. She said she could not tell who was driving or who was inside.
It was testified that Ms. Bates tested positive for meth on a urine sample.
Preston Woods said hhe was at the Bates residence on the evening prior to the incident. He said he was picked up by Terry Murphy and his wife. He said they threw darts in the garage. He said the Murphys left first, then Ms. Bates took him home about 1:30 a.m. He said the boys were in the car. He said they stopped by the residence of her father.
The state's final witness, Jim Derry of the state meth task force, said meth was found on aluminum foil in the garage and heroin was found in the house.
He said the garage "looked like a classic meth lab."