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DA Reopens Investigation Of Little Boy's Death

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Posted at 10:11 PM, Jul 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-29 17:19:21-04

Authorities have reopened the investigation into the death of a little Maury County boy almost 15 years ago, and now the district attorney is preparing to ask to exhume the child's body.

Jeffry Kelton Skaggs was just 15 months old when he died under mysterious circumstances in 2001, but the DA at the time closed the case without an investigation.

Now, there's a new DA and new interest in figuring out exactly what happened.

"The investigation so far has just confirmed that this case needed to be reopened," said Brent Cooper, district attorney general for the 22nd Judicial District.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates first raised questions about Jeffry's death almost 10 years ago.

It was a case that haunted a former director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and a former state medical examiner.

"This child almost screams from its grave for justice," retired TBI Director Larry Wallace said in a 2006 interview.

Then-State Medical Examiner Bruce Levy said, "We had injuries that did not match the stories, the multiple stories provided, the stories that changed over time."

But longtime DA Mike Bottoms had blocked efforts back then to exhume the child's body for reasons that he never would explain.

"I'm not going to judge his decision back then, but I felt like the case certainly needed to be looked into further," Cooper said.

He explained that he decided to take a new look after meeting with Wallace and after watching our NewsChannel 5 investigation.

"The more we looked at it, the deeper we got into it, the more we realized this is a homicide investigation -- and that's what needs to be conducted," Cooper added.

As our investigation first revealed, the child lived inside a mobile home in Maury County with his mother and her boyfriend.

The family claimed Jeffry rolled off the bed and hit his head.

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

That's where he died.

The doctor who treated him was suspicious.

"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," said Dr. Joel Pickett.

Levy agreed.

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

Dr. Charles Harlan -- a longtime medical examiner who ended up having his license revoked for incompetence -- performed an autopsy.

He ruled it an accident.

But when experts from Tennessee's Board of Medical Examiners looked at Jeffry's case, they came to another conclusion.

"The child's actual manner of death was the result of non-accidental trauma," said Wallace, reading from the medical board's findings.

"Meaning?" we asked.

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

"Murder?"

"It was murder."

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Cooper, "Do you believe this was murder?"

"I believe it was definitely not accidental," he confirmed.

The DA said his experts, who looked at Jeffry's case, confirmed what our experts told us years ago.

"We've had three, at least three, independent experts review those records," Cooper said.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, "And they tell you what?"

"They say that the autopsy was ... not a good autopsy and that it was an incomplete autopsy."

In fact, NewsChannel 5 Investigates obtained a photo showing that Jeffry's right leg was in a cast at the time of his death -- a detail that Doctor Harlan had completely ignored.

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

Wallace said he "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 Jeffry's family opposed such an effort a decade ago.

Without the DA's approval, a judge said he could not legally approve the state's request.

But the new prosecutor said he believes exhuming the young boy's body is the only way to get justice for Jeffry.

"The fatal blow is rarely the only injury this child has suffered. Usually, by the time they get to a point where they kill a child, normally they've been hurting that child before then," Cooper said.

As to why he's pursuing such an old case, cooper was emphatic.

"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."

The family has repeatedly denied that they did anything to cause the child's death.

Because it's once again an open investigation, the DA won't comment on whether he suspects someone in the home or possibly someone else.

He says he follow the facts wherever they lead.

If you have information about this case, call the District Attorney General's Office at 931-380-2536 or email Cooper at bacooper@tndagc.org.