'Child's Manner of Death Was Non-Accidental Trauma' - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Justice for Jeffry

'Child's Manner of Death Was Non-Accidental Trauma'

It was the tragic death of a little boy that resulted in a once-prominent medical examiner losing his license. Until now, the boy was known in official records only by his initials.

But an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation put a name to the case and found some high-profile investigators who say Jeffry Kelton Skaggs still hasn't found justice.

Our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams reopens a case some want to keep closed.


It's been five years since Jeffry Kelton Skaggs died -- the victim of a severe skull fracture.

But the little blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy hasn't been forgotten.

Not by the former director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

"This child almost screams from its grave for justice," says Larry Wallace. 

"This is one of those cases that just will not go away, will not go away."

Not by the state's chief medical examiner.

"This is a case where we just want to resolve questions," says Dr. Bruce Levy.

A life that began in promise October 20th, 1999... ended in mystery 15 months later.

Inside a trailer in Maury County -- the home of his mother's boyfriend -- something happened.

The family says Jeffry fell and hit his head.

Rushed to Maury Regional Hospital, barely clinging to life, the little boy was quickly flown to a hospital in Huntsville.

There, he died.

"In my humble judgment, it's been a travesty of justice," Wallace tells Williams.

The former TBI director notes that Jeffry's case was first reported to the Maury County sheriff as possible "aggravated child abuse."

But Dr. Charles Harlan -- the longtime medical examiner who had his medical license revoked last year for incompetence -- performed an autopsy. He ruled it an accident.

Case closed -- or so it seemed.

"We felt it was never fully investigated," Wallace adds.

Levy says, "We had injuries that didn't match the stories, the multiple stories, provided - the stories that changed over time."

The state medical examiner says other physicians who examined Jeffry questioned what really happened.

An affidavit from a Huntsville neurosurgeon insisted the boy's injuries would only be consistent with a fall "down a flight of stairs or from a second floor window."

"We have a skull fracture and the skull fracture is very suspicious by its location and by how large it was," Levy says. "It extended from the type of the head all the way to the bottom of the head."

And Jeffry's right leg was already in a full cast.

The family says he fell then, too. 

But Levy says Harlan never looked for signs of abuse.

"He never bothered to even look at that leg fracture. He didn't do any sort of skeletal survey. He didn't x-ray the body."

Wallace says, "I came away totally convinced that the proper thing to do in this case was to exhume this child's body and perform a second autopsy."

But when state officials asked a Hickman County judge to exhume Jeffry's body as part of an investigation of Harlan, district attorney general Mike Bottoms --a longtime Harlan friend -- refused to sign off on it.

The child was buried in Hickman County, but the judge ruled that legally the request had to be made by the DA for Maury County.

"General Bottoms was very close minded about this situation," Wallace says. "He was determined to rely on the results of Dr. Harlan's autopsy, and there was no changing his opinion."

Bottoms also didn't have any interest in explaining his decisions to us.

"Can we talk to you, sir?" Williams asks, as Bottoms drives past him without stopping to talk

"General, can we talk to you about the Skaggs case? Sir, why do you not want to talk about it?"

And when we finally caught up with him at a gas station, he claimed we were the ones with a truth problem.

"You don't tell the truth," he tells Williams, "and I'm not interested in being interviewed by you, not going to be."

The truth is in black and white, for anyone to see. It's the order revoking Dr. Harlan's license.

And, in one little-noticed section, the state's medical board concludes that little Jeffry Kelton Skaggs was the victim of a crime.

"The child's actual manner of death was the result of non-accidental trauma," the board concludes.

Larry Wallace explains. "Meaning that in the judgment of the authors of this article it was homicide."

"Murder?" Williams asks.

"It was murder."

Levy says, "I'm not saying this is homicide. What I am saying is there are serious questions here, which may end up leading to this being homicide. But it could very well be an accident."

Still, Bottoms refuses to ask for a new, independent investigation.

"So what about this little boy," Williams asks, as the DA shrugs his shoulders. "What if you're wrong, sir?"

Bottoms doesn't answer.

"General Bottoms made a decision," Wallace adds. "I just hope he can live with that decision."

Levy says, "If you don't do it and look, you are never going to answer these questions in the end."

"So we are really talking about justice for Jeffry?" Williams asks.

"We are," he answers. "It's absolutely a case of justice for Jeffry."

Wallace says the DA should either reopen the case and authorize a full investigation to answer the questions -- something he never did -- or step aside and let a special prosecutor do it for him.

The child's mother says she thinks the state ought to stick with Dr. Harlan's findings and let it go.

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