Covington bound over to Grand Jury in death of 3-year-old

Published 12:14 pm Friday, March 10, 2017

A Carter County judge bound the criminal case against a man charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 3-year-old stepson over to the Grand Jury on Friday morning.
Demetrius Deshawn Covington, 28, of Elizabethton, appeared in Carter County General Sessions Court on Friday morning before Judge Keith Bowers Jr. The case had been set for a preliminary hearing Friday morning, but that hearing never took place.
When Bowers called the case up from the docket, Covington’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers, addressed the court.
“We have discussed the matter with Mr. Covington, and we are going to waive his preliminary hearing,” Sellers said, adding Covington had signed a form waiving his right to the hearing.
Sellers then passed documents to a bailiff who in turn handed them to Bowers, who reviewed the papers and then placed Covington under oath. Bowers asked Covington if he understood he had a right to a preliminary hearing to be held on the charges against him and if he freely waived that right. Covington replied, “Yes, sir.”
Bowers then bound the case over to the Grand Jury. Members of the Grand Jury will hear the case on May 3 and then decide whether or not to indict Covington in the case. If the Grand Jury hands down an indictment, Covington will be prosecuted in Carter County Criminal Court.
Currently, Covington faces charges of first-degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse or neglect in the November 2016 death of 3-year-old Ja’Kari Phillips. State law allows a person to be charged with first-degree felony murder if someone dies during the commission of a felony. In this case, the state is using the charge of aggravated child abuse or neglect as the underlying felony charge to justify the charge of first-degree murder.
The charges against Covington stem from an investigation by the Elizabethton Police Department that began on Nov. 18 when Ayonjaleea Phillips called 911 to report her son, Ja’Kari Phillips, was having difficulty breathing. While driving her son to the hospital, the child’s condition worsened, so the mother pulled over and began performing CPR. The Carter County Rescue Squad was dispatched to the scene and transported the child for treatment. The child was taken first to Sycamore Shoals Hospital and then later to Niswonger Children’s Hospital where he was placed on life support. The child died at the hospital on Nov. 22 as a result of his injuries, which according to court documents were considered to be “non-accidental trauma and were not self-inflicted.”
According to court documents, the child suffered numerous bruises over his face, neck, torso, back, bottom, legs and foot. Court documents also state medical tests revealed the child had internal injuries, including swelling in his brain and a subdural hematoma, which is a collection of blood outside of the brain usually caused by severe head injuries.
Phillips told investigators she had left her son in Covington’s care while she was at work. According to police, she said Covington called her at work and asked her to come home, saying the child may have fallen in the bathtub. Phillips arrived home, got her son and then began the trip to the hospital.
According to police, Covington fled the area before officers or investigators could speak with him regarding the child’s injuries. On Nov. 21, the Elizabethton Police Department requested the public’s help in locating Covington, which led to a multi-state search involving the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Marshals Service. On Nov. 23 Covington was captured in Dayton, Ohio, by local authorities there with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service Fugitive Task Force.
Covington was later returned to Carter County to face charges and was booked into the Carter County Detention center on Dec. 2. Covington remains held at the jail without bond after Bowers denied a request from the Public Defender’s Office to set bail in the case.

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