'First We Hear One Story, Then We Hear Another' - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

NewsChannel 5 Investigates: Justice for Jeffry

'First We Hear One Story, Then We Hear Another'

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NewsChannel 5 first uncovered questions about a little boy's death. The DA refuses to reopen the case, even after a state board concluded that his death was no accident. But that's not the only evidence.

Our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams dug back into an old court case in which investigators questioned his family's story.

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In a Hickman County courtroom, state investigators battled the family of a little boy buried not far away.

Jeffry Kelton Skaggs died in 2001 after his skull was fractured, and state investigators wanted the judge to authorize a second autopsy.

"They did not want this child to be exhumed," former TBI director Larry Wallace tells Williams.

He says there were lots of questions about what happened to the 15-month-old child, about the medical evidence, about the family's story of an innocent, little fall.

"They did not want further details to come out. They wanted it over and done with."

In fact, Jeffry had been buried not long after controversial medical examiner Dr. Charles Harlan had ruled his death an accident. 

Yet, despite the autopsy report, state attorneys brought in the neurosurgeon who'd tried to save the little boy's life.

"The thing that bothered me about this was the height of the fall that was reported to me ... was not sufficient to result in this magnitude of a head injury," Dr. Joel Puckett told the court.

State medical examiner Bruce Levy also testified.

"We had injuries that didn't match the stories, the multiple stories, provided - the stories that changed over time," he tells Williams.

In fact, in the 911 call from the trailer where the boy was staying, his mother's boyfriend never even mentions a fall.

Caller: "It's almost like he's knocked out."
Operator: "Has the child been sick?"
Caller: "Yeah, he's been sick."

Levy says, "First we hear one story, then we hear another story, then we hear a third story."

A sworn affidavit from a detective says the boyfriend first claimed that Jeffry was "asleep and fell off of a bed," falling onto a carpeted, wood floor.

"The story later changed to the child may have been jumping up and down on the bed and fell off the bed," Levy says.

"Then the child was reaching for something on the dresser and slipped off the edge of the bed."

Look at pictures from the case file, and you'll see why investigators question Dr. Harlan's final theory.

Remember, Jeffry was 15-months-old -- and he had a cast on his right leg.

The family found what they said were little fingerprints next to a doll on the top of a nearby dresser.

So, Dr. Harlan theorized that Jeffry was trying to reach the doll, stepped from the bed and put his right foot -- the one with the cast -- on a little ledge at the front of the dresser.

Then, he lost his balance.

But, instead of falling down and forward, Dr. Harlan concluded that the boy flipped up and back off the ledge, spun around, missed the mattress and box spring, and slammed his head right into a bed rail.

"Would the injuries be consistent with any of those stories," Williams asks Levy.

"It would be consistent with none of those stories," the state's chief medical examiner responds.

Jeffry Kelton Skaggs' mother told the court that her boyfriend, now husband, initially told her that the boy "had fell off the bed."

But she testified that, even after she became aware of the severity of the skull fracture, she never pressed him to explain the fatal injuries.

"Have you asked ... what happened to your son?" a state attorney asked her.

"If you want to know the truth," she replied, "it's not a very good topic in our household. Would you want to discuss how your child died every day?"

"No, ma'am," the state attorney responded. "I think I'd want to know."

Former TBI director Wallace says:

"Following that hearing, I felt even more frustrated. But I also felt even more in my heart that this case needed to be investigated further and a second autopsy was needed."

It was something that the district attorney, Mike Bottoms, has refused to authorize -- even after the state medical board's ruling last year in Harlan's case that Jeffrey's death was "non-accidental."

"I understand the trauma to a family of exhuming a member of the family, especially a child for a second autopsy," Levy says. 

But Levy say it's the only way to find justice for Jeffry.

"This is a case where we just want to resolve questions."

The judge ruled that Jeffry Kelton Skaggs' body could be exhumed only if requested by the DA for the county where he died -- which Bottoms has refused to do.

In the end, the investigators say they don't know if his death was homicide or an accident.

What they do know is there are a lot of questions that still haven't been answered.

Even thought it's been five years -- because of preservation techniques used today -- Levy says it's not too late for a second autopsy or for justice for Jeffry.

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