published Tuesday, February 11th, 2014

Tennessee mother in smothering case given suspended sentence

Monica Hammers waits for her pretrial hearing in Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom in February.
Monica Hammers waits for her pretrial hearing in Judge Barry Steelman's courtroom in February.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A 44-year-old Rutherford County, Tenn., woman convicted of attempted aggravated child abuse after placing a pillow over her child's face at T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger in May 2011 was sentenced Monday to a nine-year suspended sentence.

Monica Dawn Hammers has not had contact with her son since being arrested on the charge, her attorney Donna Miller said. He was 4 at the time of the incident.

After the hearing, Miller said that she will argue for a new trial on April 7. Hammers was originally represented by Harry Christensen in both of her trials on charges related to the "smothering" incident.

Miller has taken over representing Hammers for sentencing and appeal, she said. Hammers declined to speak for this story.

Prosecutor Charlie Minor previously argued during trial that Hammers' son was under evaluation for ongoing digestive problems and doctors suspected possible medical abuse.

An assigned observer testified that she was in the hospital room when Hammers put a pillow over her son's face and looked up with a shocked expression when the observer saw what happened.

Christensen argued that Hammers was likely playing peek-a-boo and the observer misinterpreted what had happened.

Before jurors began deliberating the original charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the 2012 trial, Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Barry Steelman removed the murder charge, saying there had not been enough proof presented by prosecutor Charlie Minor.

That jury deadlocked on the aggravated child abuse charge. A new trial was held in 2013; that jury found Hammers guilty of attempted aggravated child abuse.

Hammers agreed to the sentence rather than have an adversarial sentencing hearing in which both sides would argue for a higher or lower sentence.

Miller and Minor agreed upon the sentence. Hammers has no previous criminal history that would have required her to serve prison time.

Hammers had faced an eight- to 12-year sentence.

Contact staff writer Todd South at tsouth@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. 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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