Couple charged in child’s death appear in court

Published 6:20 pm Thursday, April 6, 2017

A couple charged in connection with the death of the woman’s young child appeared in Criminal Court Thursday morning.

Ayonjaleea Phillips, 26, formerly of Elizabethton but now residing in Knoxville, and Demetrius Covington, 28, of Elizabethton, both made their first appearance in Criminal Court on Monday on charges related to the death of 3-year-old Ja’Kari Phillips. A Carter County Grand Jury indicted Phillips on a charge of aggravated child endangerment. The Grand Jury also indicted Covington on two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the child’s death.

Covington was the first to appear before Judge Stacy Street on Thursday. Covington filled out an affidavit of indigency and requested the court appoint an attorney for him.

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Street appointed the Public Defender’s Office to represent Covington. Assistant Public Defender Melanie Sellers waived a formal reading of the indictment and entered a not guilty plea on behalf of Covington.

Street said the case would be set for Judge Lisa Rice’s docket track and asked Sellers what sort of scheduling she would need for the case.

“Your Honor, we may be filing a bond motion,” Sellers said. “The judge in Sessions Court would not set a bond. He is entitled to a bond.”

“I think it’s important for Mr. Covington to see the court is going to follow the law and set a bond,” she added.

Street directed Sellers to draw up the motion and scheduled Covington to appear before Rice on May 31 in regards to that motion. Covington has been held without bond since his arrest in Ohio in late November 2016.

When Phillips appeared before Street, she also requested a court-appointed attorney and Street declared she was also indigent.

“The Court finds that the Public Defender’s Office has a conflict due to their representation of a co-defendant in this matter,” Street said.

Street then appointed attorney Scott Schultz to represent Phillips. Schultz waived a formal reading of the indictment and entered a plea of not guilty on Phillips’ behalf.

The case against Phillips will also be on Rice’s docket track, and Street scheduled Phillips to return to court on May 31 alongside her co-defendant.

The charges against Covington and Phillips stem from an investigation by the Elizabethton Police Department that began on Nov. 18, 2016, when Phillips called 911 while taking her son to the hospital and reported he was having trouble breathing. While en route to the hospital the child’s condition worsened and Phillips pulled over to begin performing CPR.

The child was taken to a local hospital and died on Nov. 22 as the result of his injuries, which court documents state were considered to be “non-accidental trauma and were not self-inflicted.”

According to court documents, the child suffered numerous bruises to 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.

Police said Covington had fled the area before they were able to speak with him on Nov. 18. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation placed Covington on the Most Wanted List, and a multi-state search for the suspect began. He was later captured in Ohio and returned to Carter County to face charges.