The defense in the double-murder/child neglect/narcotics trial of Natasha Moses Bates introduced its first witness Wednesday afternoon as the prosecution for the state closed its case.
Judge Amy Reedy denied a motion from 10th Judicial District Public Defender Richard Hughes and his assistant, Keith Roberts, to dismiss the nine-count indictment in the deaths and alleged drug use leading up to the deaths of Bates’ children, River Bates, 4, and Leland Bates, 5.
River Bates died June 28, 2012. Leland Bates died the following day in a Chattanooga hospital.
Testimony from Detective Dewayne Scoggins was presented to the Criminal Court jury Tuesday.
Scoggins indicated Bates had changed her story numerous times before finally admitting the children were inside her car when they suffered heat-related illness, leading to their deaths.
Bates originally told investigators the children had been playing in the yard at her Armstrong Road address where she was living in a trailer owned by her mother.
“Why were they in a car?”
That was the question Dr. Steven Cogswell pondered.
Only a small amount of fluid was found in the children’s stomachs at autopsy, according to Cogswell, but both appeared to have been well-nourished and hydrated.
Bates’ mother Sandra Keith was first to take the stand for the defense Wednesday afternoon.
Keith said the boys were active and playful.
Cogswell, forensic pathologist with U.T. Forensic Center, explained the progression of hyperthermia to the jury, indicating the process goes from sweating, possible nausea, weakness, lethargy, unconsciousness or coma and then death.
Both boys’ body-core temperatures were recorded well above 100 degrees.
“What do you think their temperatures would have been?” 10th Judicial District Assistant DA Stephen Hatchett asked Cogswell.
The pathologist said, “It’s hard to say, but it would have been higher than 109 degrees.”
In testimony Tuesday, Scoggins noted a controlled experiment by Bradley County Sheriff’s Office revealed a maximum temperature of 129 degrees inside the car.
The experiment was conducted a few days after the deaths and controls set in place to emulate the occurrences of June 28, 2012.
Scoggins said during interviews with Natasha that she indicated the children had been playing on a Slip-n-Slide water toy earlier that day.
When emergency responders went to the Keith Valley Road residence of Natasha’s father, where she had taken the children after discovering them unconscious, paramedic Nick Laney testified they were wet.
Cogswell said the moisture could have been from perspiration, but could not provide a definitive answer to defense attorney Hughes.
Typically, during heat-related illness, the body will quit perspiring and begin the process of shutting down, causing death, according to his testimony.
River Bates’ body-core temp was 109 when he arrived at SkyRidge Medical Center for treatment.
When Leland Bates arrived at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital, testimony noted his body-core temp was 104.
“Have you ever seen a case unlike sports-related deaths, where children were found in the yard and had a body-core temperature of 109 degrees?” Hatchett asked Cogswell.
“No, I haven’t,” he answered.
Cogswell said that at 104 to 106 degrees body-core temp, “they would be in a state of delirium or coma. The brain doesn’t function properly.”
“In your opinion … were they in an enclosed space?”
The pathologist answered. “Yes” to the question by Hatchett.
A neighbor to the Bates residence at the time, Jennifer Kazy, testified she had seen a vehicle enter the Bates driveway at 11:10 a.m. that day.
The incident with the children began to unfold just before 3 p.m., according to reports and testimony.
Testimony earlier during the prosecution phase of the trial and questioning from Hughes indicated the boys could be somewhat mischievous with their mother, “playing tricks” on her such as telling her they had eaten their meals, when in fact they had not.
Cogswell also said the boys’ stomachs had no food present, although statements had been made during the prosecution phase that Bates had prepared eggs earlier that day and they had eaten.
Cogswell said a food such as eggs could have digested from the stomach within two hours, but more solid foods take longer to move from the stomach into the intestinal tract.
In other testimony, Lt. John Stone of BCSO’s Special Investigations Unit explained how methamphetamine is manufactured and used.
Just days after the children’s deaths, investigators returned to the Keith Valley Road address with a search warrant and found evidence of alleged meth production and use.
The defense raised a question regarding evidence of one-pot method bottles used in the production of the drug. The bottles had been tagged as “old,” according to Hughes.
Detective Heath Arthur testified that meant indications were the meth had been produced and product removed … not necessarily that the bottles had been at the location over an extended period of time.
“Old means discarded and not working ‘shake and bake’ bottles,” Arthur explained.
Based on his experience, he determined the bottles had been there for approximately a month … within the time frame while the Bates family was living there.
Jim Derry of the Methamphetamine Task Force said the scene was a “classic meth lab.”
Derry was employed by BCSO to perform ion scans of the garage and mobile home where the children lived.
He told the jury through the 18 scans, that meth, the precursor over-the-counter pseudo-ephedrine and heroine were found.
Derry explained to the jury the controls of the scanner and procedure.
Samples such as foil which is typically used to smoke meth, furnishings in the garage and mobile home, were tested through the scans.
During cross-examination, Hughes asked Derry if he knew when meth had been produced. Derry answered, “No.”
The defense took over and began its questioning with Keith, an over-the-road truck driver who is typically home only three days a month.
The prosecution had showed the jury pictures of trash which littered the garage and mobile home.
Keith had a dumpster delivered to the property and testified they were in the process of removing household garbage.
She testified Bates was a single mother who had been living there off and on, and that it was property that had been in her family for generations.
Testimony is continuing today.