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Middlesboro Police issue an update in the Baby Elena death investigation

From WRIL - The Big One -

While not all aspects of an on-going investigation can be openly publicized, the Middlesboro Police have released a long-awaited updated a horrendous 2023 crime involving the death of a toddler.

In press release issued Wednesday evening March 20th the department detailed the following statement.

"The Middlesboro Police Department wishes to inform the public regarding a significant development in the case involving the tragic death of Elena Hembree.

The investigation has been awaiting two crucial pieces of information to move forward with the case. Those two elements were the DNA Test Results and the Autopsy Report of Elena Hembree.

After an extensive investigation and long-awaited DNA result, the Kentucky State Police Forensic Lab found a lack of male DNA in their analysis.

Furthermore, after the release of the Autopsy Report (prepared by Kentucky Medical Examiners Office gathered by East Tennessee Children’s Hospital specifically the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit), it has now been revealed the cause of death of Elena Hembree was non accidental blunt force trauma.

We want to assure the public that the safety and well-being of our community remain paramount. We now have the essential and needed information to work this case with the Federal Bureau of Investigation since all documentation has been obtained to move forward in the manner of which this case deserves.

The Middlesboro Police Department, FBI, and the Commonwealth Attorney's office are committed to seeing that justice is served for all parties involved in the tragic death of Elena Hembree.

As the case progresses, we urge the community to allow the legal process to unfold. We appreciate your understanding and continued support as we work diligently to ensure justice in this tragic situation."

WRIL initially reported that on Friday night July 28, 2023, a 17-month-old female child was taken to Middlesboro ARH Hospital with severe injuries including sexual assault. Due to the extreme and life-threatening nature of the injuries, the child was flown to Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee. The medical staff attempted to stabilize the girl, placing her on a respirator, but unfortunately she passed away Sunday evening July 30th at the hospital.

Middlesboro Lt./Detective Barry Cowan and Officer Caleb Ayers began a joint investigation into who was responsible for the incident that led to the assault and death of the child. Det. Cowan interviewed the child's mother, 21-year-old Erica L. Lawson of Middlesboro, and subsequently arrested her in connection with the violent and tragic crime.

At the time Lawson was charged with Manslaughter – 2nd degree, Failure to report child abuse – 1st degree, Criminal abuse – 1st degree - child under 12, and Wanton endangerment. She was later indicted and Commonwealth Attorney Lisa Fugate amended the manslaughter charge to 1st degree Murder and subsequently is seeking the death penalty.

From there, DNA samples acquired from possible suspects were sent to two separate labs for testing. We understand the FBI will be conducting separate tests on evidence they gather during their part of the investigation.

Erica Lawson had a Bell Circuit court appearance today (Wednesday, March 20, 2024) where her attorney argued for a motion to dismiss the death penalty. Circuit Judge Keith Nagle stated that he he was denying the motion and that it was too early in the process to address the issue. During the hearing, Commonwealth Attorney Lisa Fugate was given 30 more days to address a Bill of Particulars involving the case. The next pretrial conference for Erica Lawson has been set for June 5, 2024 at 1:30pm.

We will continue to follow this case.

5,515 views3 comments


Mar 20

I don't believe that there wasn't any male DNA it's impossible some one needs to investigate this further and get the truth and the mother deserves the death penalty for this atrocious thing I pray 🙏 for justice for sweet Elena


Mar 20

When you give birth to a child a mommy should care for her child and die to protect her child

      Their ‘s no excuse for what she done and allowed to be done to this innocent child, especially and her this babies mommy .


Mar 20

everyone involved should face the death penalty this poor baby

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