Unlicensed daycare owner's appeals denied in conviction for death of 4-month-old

Nov 20, 2018 at 08:00 am by Michelle Willard

Tennessee Appeals Court

One of the most heart-wrenching trials I covered while at the Daily News Journal was the felony murder and child abuse trial of a Murfreesboro daycare operator, who was convicted of the 2014 criminally negligent homicide of a child in her care.

After a four-day trial in 2017 where witnesses testified to a 4-month-old baby dying because Angela Buchanan fell asleep when she was supposed to be watching him, she was convicted by a Rutherford County jury.

After the verdict, Judge Royce Taylor sentenced Buchanan to 22 years in prison.

Buchanan was initially charged with first-degree murder, but the charges were reduced by the grand jury because there wasn't any indication Buchanan premeditated injuring Mekhi Cole.

Following the post-conviction process, she requested a relief hearing from Judge Royce Taylor. He denied her arguments that "the trial court erred by refusing to grant a mistrial after a comment made by the prosecutor prior to jury selection; whether the trial court erred by refusing to grant a mistrial after informing the jury that Defendant was charged with aggravated child abuse; whether the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions; and whether the trial court properly sentenced Defendant," according to her appeal.

The Tennessee Appeals Court denied her appeal, opining that the "prejudicial" statements weren't; the jury knowing initial charges wasn't prejudicial; there was enough evidence; and the judge using an enhanced sentence because of the child abuse conviction doesn't invalidate the sentence itself.

Honestly, she was lucky to only get 22 years. She was not a sympathetic figure when she testified in her own defense.

Read the full opinion (PDF)

The Background

In February 2017, a Rutherford County jury found Angela Buchanan guilty of criminally negligent homicide and aggravated child neglect in the 2014 death of four-month-old Mekhi Cole.

Buchanan was accused of falling into a drug-induced sleep March 20, 2014, with Mekhi on her bed during nap time in Buchanan’s unlicensed in-home daycare in Murfreesboro.

A medical examiner testified at the trial that Mekhi died of asphyxiation after rolling onto his stomach and not being able to right himself.

"When she awoke, the victim was face down on the bed and did not appear to be breathing. She called 911 and started CPR. The victim never regained consciousness," according to the appeal.

Under crossing examination by Assistant District Attorney Hugh Ammerman, Buchanan admitted to sleeping for two hours and to taking prescription drugs — Suboxone, gabapentin and Valium — that morning. She testified she has a prescription for Suboxone and gabapentin for chronic pain from carpal tunnel syndrome and nerve pain in her legs, and valium for anxiety.

When first responders arrived at the scene, "there were a lot of children in the house, '[f]ending for themselves.' Detective Jacob Fountain said that the children were talking to him and the first responders," according to the appeal.

Michelle Willard is a freelance journalist who fills her days with social media marketing, politics, true crime, and taking complaints. You can complain to her on Twitter @MichWillard or by email michelle(at)murfreesborovoice.com.


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