GATLINBURG (WATE) – The parents of a 2-year-old boy who died after being left overnight in a car in Gatlinburg have been charged with first degree murder.
A grand jury returned presentments against Anthony Dyllan Phillips, 26, and Jade Elizabeth Phillips, 24, for a total of four counts in the death of their son, Kipp Phillips: first degree murder committed in the perpetration of aggravated child neglect, first degree murder committed in the perpetration of aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect, and aggravated child abuse.
The two were taken into custody in Westmoreland, Tennessee. On Tuesday, they were brought back from Sumner County to Sevier County where they were arrested. A court date has not yet been set, according to a release from District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn.
The Gatlinburg Police Department said the child’s mother called 911 around 2 p.m. on July 14 that a child had been left in a car on Laurel Avenue overnight. The police chief says it appears the parents accidentally left the little boy in the car, but it’s unclear how long he was in there.
Why the parents were charged in the toddler’s death
District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said he did not believe the parents planned to kill their son. A criminal law professor at Lincoln Memorial University, Shelly Page, said there are other reasons why a person can be charged with first degree murder other than premeditation. Page said this is the first time she has heard someone in Tennessee charged with first degree murder after a hot car death.
“The state is sending a message to parents, you have to be more responsible,” said Page.
Page said this charge is not surprising after seeing the other criminal counts the parents are facing.
“As a society, the first thing they think when they think first degree murder is usually premeditated but there are other acts that a person can do to be charged with first degree murder,” she said.
She said is a person commits a felony, like aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect, and someone dies, he or she can be charged with first degree murder.
“For us to say first degree murder, the state has to have more information then we are aware of,” Page said.
Page believed ‘Haley’s Law’ fit this case. It was created a few years ago and named after a girl in Campbell County, Haley Spicer. Her father and his girlfriend were accused of severe child abuse. This law significantly stiffens the penalties for child abuse.
“When you forget your child in the car overnight to the point where the child dies, we can definitely say that is child abuse,” said Page.
She said the parents can face 51 years in prison, life without parole, or even the death penalty. She said this is an easy case for the state.
WATE 6 On Your Side requested a copy of both parent’s criminal history. Nothing came up for the Jade Phillips. Anthony Phillips was arrested in 2015 for failing to appear in cort for a traffic violation. That was later dismissed.