UPDATE: Mother charged in "worst child abuse case" pleads guilty - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

UPDATE: Mother charged in "worst child abuse case" pleads guilty

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Traci Carpenter listens during a 2011 hearing in Criminal Court. Times Free Press photo Traci Carpenter listens during a 2011 hearing in Criminal Court. Times Free Press photo

UPDATE (1:30 p.m. 2/26/14): The mother at the center of Hamilton County's "worst case of child abuse" pleaded guilty Wednesday in her daughter's death.

Traci Carpenter pleaded guilty to Class D child abuse after her daughter died in 2006. She was originally indicted for a more serious felony, Class A child neglect.

"I know what she did was wrong, she knows we she did was wrong. And she's finally admitting to it," said Patrick Hickey.

Patrick Hickey calls Wednesday's plea deal a "relief" and a step closer to "closure." His cousin married Traci Carpenter and together they had Sierra. But eight years ago, his great-niece Sierra died from abuse and head trauma. From 2006 until today, no one has taken responsibility for little Sierra's death.

"I was 16 when she died, I'm almost 24 now, she'd be almost 8 years old and I'd have a little great-niece to run around with," Hickey said.

At first prosecutors tried Brian Rutherford for Felony Murder and Aggravated Child Abuse. He was Traci's then-boyfriend but not Sierra's father. The jury quickly found him not guilty in 2008.

Based on testimony in the Rutherford case, the state then indicted Traci on child neglect charges, a Class A Felony that carries up to 25 years in prison.

But over the past few years, her attorney, Lee Davis, has been filing multiple pre-trial appeals, delaying her case. Traci Carpenter never faced a jury and now, she won't.

Carpenter decided Wednesday to plead guilty to a lesser felony: "Class D" child abuse, which carries only 2-4 years in prison. She's set to be sentenced in May.

"Even though we could be hoping for a greater charge where she would spend a little more time in jail, you get what you get, you forgive, and you move on," Hickey said.

UPDATE (11 a.m. 2/26/14): Traci Carpenter pleaded guilty to Class D Felony Child Abuse Wednesday. She could face two to four years in prison

Sentencing is set for May 19 at 1:30. Carpenter's original charge of Class A Child Neglect could've put her away for 15 to 25 years

Follow Dan Kennedy (@DanOKennedy) for live courtroom updates.

ORIGINAL (8 a.m. 2/26/14): The Hamilton County woman charged in connection with her infant daughter's 2006 death is set to face a judge Wednesday morning for a hearing.

The medical examiner said the 2006 death of 18-month-old Sierra Carpenter was due to abuse and massive head trauma.

At the time, investigators called it the worst child abuse case in county history.

Sierra Carpenter was dropped off at the Dallas Bay Fire department in 2006, barely alive. She died two days later at T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital. Prosecutors say bruises on the child's body before her death indicated she was being abused.

Her mother, Traci Carpenter, is charged with aggravated child neglect and could face two decades in prison if found guilty. Her trial has been postponed multiple times.

Carpenter's then-boyfriend Brian Rutherford was acquitted on Felony Murder and Aggravated Child Abuse charges in a 2008 trial over Sierra's death. Information that came out in his trial led to charges against Carpenter.


  • August 2013: Carpenter appears for a status hearing and her trial is pushed back to February 2014.
  • June 2013: The Tennessee Supreme Court denied a request from Carpenter's attorney, Lee Davis, for a pre-trial appeal.
  • October 2012: The Tennessee Court of Appeals denied a request from Carpenter's attorney, Lee Davis, to review the charges before she stands trial.
  • July 2012: Defense attorneys ask that evidence of abuse to Sierra Carpenter that was not related to the child's death be barred.
  • July 2010: Carpenter's attorneys argued the aggravated child neglect charges should be dropped because of a plea deal with prosecutors. The judge denied that request from Carpenter's attorneys.
  • November 2008: Jury finds Brian Rutherford not guilty of Felony Murder and Aggravated Child Abuse in Sierra's death. Carpenter testified against her ex-boyfriend.
  • February 2007: After almost 10 months of interviews and investigation, Carpenter and Rutherford are arrested. Carpenter was arrested and charged with Aggravated Child Neglect. Rutherford was charged with Aggravated Child Abuse and Felony Murder.
  • April 27, 2006: Sierra Carpenter dies and an autopsy reveals injuries associated with child abuse, according to the medical examiner. Rutherford had dropped the infant off at the Dallas Bay Fire Department and she was airlifted to T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital.

Stay with Channel 3 for Coverage You Can Count On as we follow the progress in court.

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