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17 Years Later, Toddler's Death Ruled A Homicide

17 Years Later, Toddler's Death Ruled A Homicide
Posted at 5:49 PM, Mar 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-21 19:13:55-04

Seventeen years after the death of little Jeffry Kelton Skaggs, the Maury County toddler's death has now been ruled a homicide.

That's the result of a second autopsy conducted back in December.

It comes more than a decade after NewsChannel 5 Investigates first began raising questions about the death.

Skaggs was just 15 months old when he died back in 2001.

According to the story told by Skaggs' mother and her boyfriend, the toddler fell while climbing on a chest and hit his head on rail of the bed.

Then, back in December, investigators exhumed his body for a second autopsy.

Now, that autopsy tells a different story.

It found fractures on the back side of Skaggs' skull that "would have required considerable force to produce."


It concludes the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries.

The manner of death: homicide.

The circumstances: "assaulted by others."

It comes almost 12 years after our exclusive investigation first began raising questions about the case.

Skaggs' death was originally ruled an accident by then-medical examiner Dr. Charles Harlan, who later lost his license for incompetence.

State Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Levy questioned the findings.

"We had injuries that didn't match the stories, the multiple stories, provided - the stories that changed over time," Levy told NewsChannel 5 Investigates back in 2006.

Watch Part 1 of the 2006 investigation below:

Larry Wallace, the retired director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation shared that concern.

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

And the state board that oversees doctors' licenses came to the same conclusion, after reviewing Harlan's work.

Wallace read the board's findings.

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

We asked, "Meaning?"

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


"It was murder."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates also obtained a photo showing that Skaggs' right leg was in a cast at the time of his death.

The family said it was the result of another fall.

But when state officials asked a judge to exhume Skaggs' body as part of that investigation of Harlan, District Attorney General Mike Bottoms -- a longtime Harlan friend -- refused to sign off on it.

NewsChannel 5 tried to interview Bottoms back in 2006.

"So what about this little boy.  What if you're wrong, sir?" we asked, as the DA shrugged his shoulders.

Watch Part 2 of the 2006 investigation below:

Four years ago, Brent Cooper was elected DA to replace Bottoms, and he re-opened the investigation into Skaggs' death.

Cooper even got the legislature to pass a law that clarified his ability to seek a second autopsy.

"I'm just the type of person that I just don't believe in letting someone just walk away from a crime if I believe they've committed a crime," Cooper said.

Now, the new autopsy makes it clear that what happened to little Jeffry Kelton Skaggs was indeed a crime.

Cooper's investigators are now trying to determine if they have enough evidence, 17 years later, to bring criminal charges against someone.

The DA issued the following statement:

"While the autopsy didn't reveal any new evidence, it does clearly and correctly indicate that Kelton's death was a homicide. It is also but a single piece of this puzzle and not the final determining factor. The search for justice in the death of Kelton is not over and we are undeterred in our effort to bring those responsible to justice. This investigation is still ongoing."

Meanwhile, Skaggs' mother, Brandy Eddlemon, had fought for years to block a second autopsy. Her attorney, Jason Whatley, had said it was for emotional reasons.

Wednesday, Whatley provided the following statement to NewsChannel 5:

"The autopsy of Kelton gave the mother and her family an opportunity for closure that she never had. There are no words to express the family’s continued brokenness over Kelton’s death and questions that have arisen. The family will continue to cooperate fully with the efforts of the District Attorney General’s office in this extremely emotionally difficult investigation. The mother is thankful for the public’s continued prayers for her, the family, and for all involved."