Kentucky court to seek death penalty in toddler’s death

Published 11:38 am Thursday, September 14, 2023

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The Bell County Commonwealth Attorney will seek the death penalty against Erica Lawson in the death of her child. Lawson was charged last month in the death of her daughter, 17-month-old Elena Hembree.

On Tuesday, Lisa Fugate of the Commonwealth Attorney’s office filed a Notice of Aggravating Circumstance in the case stating that the Commonwealth “for the purpose of notifying the Defendant that it intends to present evidence regarding an aggravating circumstance, pursuant to KRS 532.025 (2)(a)(9), that being that the offense of murder was intentional and resulted in the death of a seventeen month old toddler. Therefore, the Commonwealth intends to see, the imposition of the death penalty.”

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On July 28, 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 initially arrested in early August and charged with manslaughter, failure to report child abuse, criminal abuse, child under 12, and wanton endangerment. She was arraigned on Aug. 22, and charges were amended to include first degree murder.

Lawson is being held on a $1 million dollar cash bond in the Leslie County Detention Center.

There have been no further arrests made, and DNA test results are still pending from the laboratory for multiple submissions related to potential involvement in the case.