Woman indicted in child’s death

Published 1:24 pm Thursday, August 24, 2023

By Jordan Brooks


Erica Lawson, who was arrested last month in connection to the death of her 17-month-old daughter, was indicted Tuesday for the child’s murder.

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On July 28, 17-month-old Elena Hembree was taken to the Middlesboro ARH Hospital after being beaten and raped, according to police. The child arrived was transported to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, where she died two days later.

Lawson was arrested an initially charged . The child had been beaten and raped, Middlesboro Police told WRIL.

Medical staff attempted unsuccessfully to stabilize the child, who died Sunday night.

The child’s mother, Erica Lawson, was arrested the same night and initially was booked into the Bell County Detention Center and charged with 2nd degree manslaughter, first-degree failure to report child abuse, first-degree criminal abuse against a child under 12 and first-degree wanton endangerment.

Lawson had waived her right to a preliminary hearing regarding probable cause in this case.

She was then transported to the Clay County Detention Center and then to the Leslie County Detention Center and is being held on a $1 million cash bond.

The manslaughter charge has been upgraded to murder, according to court documents.

According to Commonwealth Attorney Chris Douglas, a medical report from Knoxville showed the child died of prolonged hypoxia, a state in which oxygen is not available in sufficient amounts at the tissue level. Douglas says the investigation warranted a change of charges.

“Because it’s murder and because one of the aggravating circumstances is that the child is under the age of 12, because of Kimber’s Law (KRS 532.025) which was passed in April of this year we can now seek the death penalty,” according to Commonwealth Attorney Lisa Fugate.

No other persons have been arrested yet in the child’s death, but the case is still under investigation. Investigators are awaiting a report on DNA samples before identifying any other suspects.

“Because the child is an 17-month-old infant, and because of the nature of the crimes committed, KSP lab agreed to push that DNA to the front, and to my understanding have halted pretty much every other case, they’ve put everything on the backburner and are now working on this case and have been in order to get us those results,” said Fugate.

Usually, DNA evidence in a sexual abuse kit takes anywhere from two years to 18 months to return.

Fugate says she hopes the DNA evidence will help “fill in the blanks” in the case.