Mother arrested in connection with child’s death

Published 10:53 am Friday, August 4, 2023

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A Middlesboro mother was arrested after police say her 17-month-old daughter was brutally beaten and assaulted, resulting in her death.

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On July 28, 17-month-old Elena Hembree was taken to the Middlesboro ARH Hospital, according to WRIL. The child arrived with severe injuries and later was flown to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital in Knoxville. 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.

Lawson, 21, was booked into the Bell County Detention Center and was charged with manslaughter, failure to report child abuse, criminal abuse (child under 12) and wanton endangerment. Lawson has since been moved to the Clay County Detention Center on a $1 million bond, according to the Clay County Detention website.

“If I can seek the death penalty, you better believe I will,” Bell County Commonwealth Attorney Lisa Fugate said Tuesday at a prayer vigil for the child.

Middlesboro Police told WBIR the child’s father had not been charged.

Middlesboro Lt. Barry Cowan and Officer Caleb Ayers are investigating.

Middlesboro police say another arrest is expected as this is still an active investigation. No further information was available because the investigation is ongoing.