COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WTVF) — A Maury County man was found guilty Friday, at the end of a week-long trial, for the child neglect murder of a 15-month-old boy more than 20 years ago.
Christopher Lee Goodwin, 49, was indicted on murder charges in 2019, years after an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation raised questions about the death of Jeffry Kelton Skaggs. The child's death was ruled an accident, although several experts believed it was a homicide.
District Attorney General Brent Cooper, who re-opened the cold case after his election in 2014 and worked to change state law to give him more tools to investigate, confirmed that a jury found Goodwin guilty of first-degree felony murder stemming from aggravated child neglect.
"It's been a long time coming, and we are glad that justice was finally achieved," Cooper said.
Cooper praised retired Tennessee Bureau of Investigation director Larry Wallace's perseverance in making sure that Skaggs' death was not forgotten, crediting Wallace for pushing him to take a look at the case.
Goodwin faces an automatic sentence of life with the possibility of parole, but he likely will not be eligible for release for more than 50 years, the DA said.
Investigators said the Columbia man, who was the boyfriend of the child's mother, was alone with Skaggs at the time he sustained a fatal blow to the head in January 2001.
At the time, the medical examiner, Dr. Charles Harlan, theorized that the toddler fell while climbing on a chest and hit his head on a bed rail.
Harlan later lost his medical license for incompetence.
As NewsChannel 5 Investigates reported in 2006, then-State Medical Examiner Dr. Bruce Levy had questioned the findings of the first autopsy.
"We had injuries that didn't match the stories, the multiple stories, provided, the stories that changed over time," Levy said.
Watch Part 1 of our 2006 investigation below:
Wallace, the retired TBI director, shared that concern.
"In my humble judgment, it's been a travesty of justice," Wallace told NewsChannel 5 Investigates at the time.
And the state board that oversees doctors' licenses came to the same conclusion after reviewing Harlan's work.
Wallace read the board's findings for our cameras.
"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 the investigation of Harlan's medical license, District Attorney General Mike Bottoms -- a longtime Harlan friend -- refused to sign off on it.
Watch Part 2 of our 2006 investigation below:
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.
In 2014, 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 at the time.
That autopsy found fractures on the backside of Skaggs' skull that "would have required considerable force to produce."
It listed the manner of death as "homicide" and the circumstances as "assaulted by others."
Maury County Circuit Judge Stella Hargrove had rejected NewsChannel 5's request to have a camera in the courtroom to provide video coverage of the proceedings.