published Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Traci Carpenter to spend almost 1 year in prison for child abuse in death of daughter

Hamilton County mother Traci Leann Carpenter was sentenced Monday to less than a year in jail for a child abuse charge connected to the 2006 death of her 18-month-old daughter.

Carpenter, who pleaded guilty to a single count of child abuse in February, was sentenced to 11 months, 29 days in jail and three years of house arrest by Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole.

She went into custody after the hearing.

“This has been a tragic situation,” defense attorney Lee Davis said, saying his client had cooperated with law enforcement authorities from the beginning of the case.

Carpenter’s then-boyfriend, Brian Rutherford, was originally charged in Sierra Carpenter’s death. He was acquitted in a 2008 jury trial. Carpenter was charged with aggravated child neglect. Prosecutors believed she failed to protect her daughter from alleged abuse by Rutherford.

“Unfortunately, no one except Brian Rutherford and Traci Carpenter know what really happened to Sierra on April 24th and 25th,” prosecutor Neal Pinkston said. “Her guilty plea holds her accountable for what the investigative facts revealed, and Judge Poole’s sentence is based soundly upon existing Tennessee law.”

Rutherford maintained he never abused Sierra.

He rushed her to the Dallas Bay Volunteer Fire Department near the couple’s home when Sierra stopped breathing.

She was transported to the hospital and died a few days later on April 27, 2006.

A medical examination revealed deep bruising and bleeding on the brain. Experts had testified that prolonged, repeated abuse could produce such injuries.

The neglect charge against Carpenter was reduced to child abuse in exchange for a guilty plea in February.

Davis said there were real legal questions about Carpenter being promised that she would not be prosecuted if she passed a polygraph test, which she did, and if she testified for the prosecution against Rutherford, which she did.

She had no previous criminal history, which contributed to the lower 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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