Judge sets $1M bond for defendant in child murder case

Published 6:59 pm Wednesday, May 31, 2017

A Carter County Judge set a $1 Million bond for a man charged with first-degree murder in connection with the November 2016 death of a 3-year-old child.

On Wednesday, Demetrius Covington, 29, of Elizabethton, and Ayonjaleea Phillips, 26, formerly of Elizabethton, appeared in Carter County Criminal Court. Covington faces charges of first-degree murder and first-degree felony murder while Phillips faces a charge of aggravated child endangerment in connection with the death of Phillip’s 3-year-old son Ja’kari Phillips.

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

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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.”

Phillips told officers Covington had been caring for her child when he called her and told her the child was injured. Before officers could speak with Covington, he reportedly fled the area. He was later captured in Ohio by the U.S. Marshals Service after being placed on the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s “Most Wanted List.”

Because of that alleged flight from the area, as well as Covington’s reported gang affiliation and the serious nature of the charge against him, General Sessions Court Judge Keith Bowers ordered Covington held without bond in the case.

After the case had been bound over to a Grand Jury and an indictment issued, the Public Defender’s Office filed a motion asking the court to set a bond in the case.

In court on Wednesday, Criminal Court Judge Lisa Rice heard arguments and testimony on the motion before setting the bond for Covington.

Assistant Public Defender Wesley K. Taylor stated Covington has a “constitutional right” to a bond under state law since the state has not asked for the death penalty in the case.

Due to the allegation that Covington killed Ja’Kari Phillips while committing the felony offense of aggravated child abuse, Covington case qualifies for the death penalty under Tennessee law.

“Since no death notice has been filed this is not a capital case, and Mr. Covington is entitled to a bond,” Talor said.

Assistant District Attorney Erin McArdle informed the court the District Attorney’s Office had made no decision yet as to whether or not they intend to seek the death penalty against Covington but added that she and ADA Dennis Brooks would be meeting with Attorney General Tony Clark to discuss the possibility.

“We would ask the court to look at that with caution,” McArdle said regarding setting a bond in the case. “He has prior convictions and gang affiliation. He has no ties to the community and is a flight risk.”

As part of the hearing on the motion, TBI Special Agent Scott Lott took the witness stand and testified regarding the manhunt for Covington after he fled the area.

“The information we received was that no one knew where he was,” Lott said. “He was supposed to follow the victim and the mother of the victim to the hospital, but he never arrived at the hospital.”

During the investigation into Covington’s possible whereabouts, Lott said officers learned Covington had family members and other ties in multiple states including Virginia, Georgia, Ohio, and New York.

Ultimately, investigators were able to locate a cell phone number Covington had been using and were able to trace that phone to Dayton, Ohio, where Covington’s sister lives.

Rice said Covington is entitled to a bond at this time and if the state decides to file a notice of intent to seek the death penalty the court can address the issue of revoking bond at that time.

“A significant bond is required due to his flight from the region,” Rice said, noting Covington’s ties to multiple other states.

Rice then set Covington’s bond at $1 Million and set a special condition on the bond. “It will be required that bond be provided for by a corporate surety,” Rice said. “A property bond or a personal signature bond will not work in this case. It must be a corporate bond.”

A corporate bond means that Covington must go through a professional bonding agency in order to post bail and be released from jail.

In court on Wednesday Rice also discussed the matter of pre-trial motions with attorneys for both Covington and Phillips.

Phillips’ attorney Scott Shults asked the court for an extension on the deadline to file motions in the case, stating that not all of the information requested by the defense in discovery has been turned over.

McArdle told the court the District Attorney’s Office was still working to obtain all the items for the case file and would turn the requested materials over as soon as possible.

Rice set the deadline for motions for August 21 and scheduled a motions hearing court date for both defendants on Sept. 8.