A Tennessee couple pleaded not guilty Friday to murder and child abuse charges for allegedly intoxicating their 5-year-old daughter by having her chug more than two liters of water and grape soda, leading to her death.
Randall Lee Vaughn, 41, and Mary Vaughn, 58, of Surgoinsville were arrested this week after a two-year investigation into the death of the man’s daughter and his wife’s stepdaughter.
The Hawkins County Sheriff’s Department said the parents drove an unresponsive and discolored Alexa Linboom to the emergency room Jan. 1, 2012. She died two days later because of "acute fluid/water intoxication." It caused her sodium level to drop, swelling the brain with water and severely damaging it. The death was eventually ruled a homicide.
The Vaughns disciplined Alexa by forcing her to drink about 2.4 liters of fluid, including several 12-ounce cans of grape soda, in a span of one to two hours, according to an autopsy report prepared by the Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University. She was bruised throughout her body and had cuts on her face, the report states.
The couple told investigators that Alexa had urinated in her pants and vomited several times before they brought her to the hospital about three hours later. They had tried to feed her oatmeal to calm her stomach, but she passed out while eating. In the car, she did come to and played patty cake, the couple said. Others who knew Alexa told investigators she was a "normal" and "healthy" child.
The report also notes Alexa had moved to Tennessee about three months before her death because of allegations of neglect at her previous, unspecified home.
Both of the Vaughns were charged with first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse and two counts of aggravated child neglect.
An obituary in The Rogersville Review said Alexa Rae Linboom was a tomboy who enjoyed coloring, playing with her Barbie dolls, animals and being with her two brothers and three sisters. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services told the Associated Press that the five remaining siblings were taken into state custody in February 2013.
The couple, who are being held on $500,000 bail, were given an Oct. 20 trial date by a judge and are due back in court for a pretrial hearing in April.
A spokeswoman for the Hawkins County district attorney’s office said prosecutors have not decided what sentence they would seek, with options including life in prison, life in prison without the possibility of parole and the death penalty.
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