Couple indicted on 1st degree murder of child

Published 11:59 am Friday, July 7, 2023

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A New Tazewell couple has been indicted by the Claiborne Grand Jury on first degree murder for the death of a three-year old boy.

Aaron Justin Smith, 31, and/or Alexis Shianne Payne, 26, were additionally indicted for aggravated child abuse, neglect and endangerment, according to the true bill.

The indictments are the result of a police investigation dating from Oct. 28 when the initial call came in as a choking incident. Upon arrival, New Tazewell Police Officer Bill Baumgardner was told by Smith that the boy had fallen while eating. The father told Baumgardner the child was found unresponsive, according to the police citation.

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Law enforcement was told a neighbor was administering CPR on scene. The boy was later intubated at the Claiborne Medical Center and later transported to Children’s Hospital in Knoxville. The boy died on Nov. 1.

An autopsy was performed on Nov. 2 at the Knox County Regional Forensics Center where it was determined the death was a result of homicide. The autopsy revealed that the boy’s injuries were inconsistent with a single fall. According to the citation, the child had multiple bruises to the face, spine, buttocks, head, legs and arms. The subsequent investigation ruled the boy had been in the care of just the two – Smith and Payne – and that the couple provided inconsistent statements that did not explain the events.

At the time of the incident, Smith had told police officers that Payne, his live-in girlfriend, had left the residence prior to the alleged fall.

In addition to the first-degree murder charge, Payne was indicted on two counts of aggravated child endangerment and one count of aggravated child neglect.

Smith was charged with one count of aggravated child abuse in addition to the first-degree murder charge.

The two are currently booked into the Claiborne County Jail under $1 million bonds each.

An indictment does not indicate guilt. An indictment does indicate that the grand jury found enough evidence to warrant sending the case to trial.