published Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Long-delayed Traci Carpenter child neglect trial set for Hamilton County Criminal Court

Traci Carpenter listens during a pretrial hearing in Criminal Court Judge Don Poole's courtroom.
Traci Carpenter listens during a pretrial hearing in Criminal Court Judge Don Poole's courtroom.
Photo by Staff File Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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The paternal grandparents of an 18-month-old girl who died from what prosecutors say was ongoing abuse and neglect have waited seven years for a trial and, as of Wednesday, will now wait another five months.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole set Feb. 4, 2014, as the trial date for Traci Carpenter’s aggravated child neglect trial. She faces as much as a 25-year prison sentence if convicted.

Steve and Janice Carpenter are the parents of Joshua Carpenter, who died shortly after the birth of his daughter, Sierra Carpenter.

Often in criminal cases that drag on prosecutors will reduce or even dismiss charges with the permission of victims or victim survivors.

Not in this case.

“We are absolutely going to wait this out,” said Janice Carpenter. “We’ve waited this long.”

Sierra died on April 27, 2006. An autopsy revealed bleeding on the brain, among other injuries. That evidence was used a year after the toddler’s death to charge her mother, Traci Carpenter, and Brian Rutherford, who was Carpenter’s boyfriend at the time.

Rutherford faced a charge of first-degree murder. Traci Carpenter faced aggravated child neglect.

A jury acquitted Rutherford of the murder charge in a November 2008 trial. Traci Carpenter testified against him.

Initially the Carpenters supported Traci Carpenter.

But during Rutherford’s trial, Steve and Janice Carpenter began to see what they think actually happened — that Traci Carpenter was at least partly responsible for their granddaughter’s death.

Traci Carpenter testified that she drove while high on marijuana and methamphetamine with Sierra in the car. Traci’s mother, Sue Petty, later testified in a hearing that in the two days before Sierra’s death, the girl stayed with her and had only a single bruise on her forehead when Petty returned the child to her daughter and Rutherford’s care.

Defense attorney Lee Davis declined to comment Wednesday. He previously has said that prosecutors are only going after his client because they failed to convict Rutherford.

He has filed pretrial appeals listing that and other problems he sees with how the case has been handled. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals denied Davis’ requests and sent the case back to Poole for a trial.

Prosecutor Neal Pinkston declined to comment on an ongoing case.

Contact staff writer Todd South at 423-757-6347 or tsouth@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @tsouthCTFP.

about Todd South...

Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...

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