Child dead in murder-attempted suicide

Lenoir City Police Chief Don White gives an update on Melani Sue Brown's status Friday at the Lenoir City Municipal Building. 

A Lenoir City woman faces five charges after her 3-year-old son was found dead with multiple stab wounds March 11 at McGhee Square Apartments.

Melani Sue Brown, 38, was indicted on premeditated first-degree murder, felony murder by aggravated child abuse, felony murder by aggravated child neglect, aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect. Investigators presented evidence to a Loudon County grand jury at 8:30 a.m. Friday and came back with true bills on the five charges.

Brown is currently at the University of Tennessee Medical Center after attempting to take her life.

“The reason for the grand jury meeting today on this case is that on Wednesday evening and all day Thursday, UT hospital was telling us that they were going to release the suspect in this case, Melani Brown, within the next day of so,” Russell Johnson, 9th Judicial District attorney general, said in an email correspondence. “So, if she is to be released, we need to either have her arrested on an arrest warrant or on a capias from an indictment issued by a grand jury. In order to hold her in custody and not be released back into the community we have to have some sort of criminal process issued — warrant or indictment.”

Lenoir City Police Chief Don White said Brown is believed to be in “serious condition” at UT Medical Center.

“We do have officers at the hospital and we will just be waiting for her condition to improve before those warrants will be served on her,” White said.

White did not know when Brown would be released from the hospital.

“Because she did have surgery on Wednesday afternoon, so the sheriff department would take control of her and she would probably be transported to a special needs facility in Nashville,” White said. “... We do not have a facility in East Tennessee to take care of that level of care. So it’s my understanding, after speaking with the sheriff’s department, that depending on her specific needs because she is just 48 hours from the surgery, that she would need a level of care that we couldn’t provide here and so that facility’s in Nashville. And then once she improved to a point then we would bring her back here to the Loudon County jail.”

Law enforcement received a call at 2:40 a.m. Wednesday from a woman who said she was at the apartment complex in Lenoir City where Brown and her toddler son were living.

When officers arrived, the woman was administering CPR to the boy, White said.

Brown was on the bed with self-inflicted knife wounds to her upper torso and neck area and was unresponsive. EMS transported Brown immediately to UT Medical Center. The 3-year-old died from injuries to his neck and upper torso.

“She had received a phone call ... with just some random communication about being out walking around and was kind of walking, saying strange things, and then when she asked about where (the boy) was at, (Brown) said he was back at the apartment, so she said, ‘I’m coming over there’,” White said. “When she got there, she saw (Brown) walking around the parking lot. She picked her up and they drove back to the building where (Brown) lives and when they went in that’s when she discovered the body.”

Brown was the lone suspect.

“So basically how it went down is she killed her baby boy and then she tried to kill herself ... murder-attempted suicide,” White said.

The incident has been tough for the community, he said.

“This is the worst situation for us as law enforcement as well as the community and family and friends,” White said. “This little boy was very active in the community that he lived in at McGhee Square Apartments and so it’s just a very sad situation and it was just a horrific event. It’s just been a rough few days for everybody involved and so we’re just trying to move through. We were so happy and pleased that we were able to get the grand jury brought together this morning at 8:30.

“I’m sure that you’ve heard that our court system across the state of Tennessee is going to close until probably the first of April, so it was very, very important that we got this taken care of this morning,” he added. “Our investigators did a phenomenal job with this investigation. We wanted to act swiftly and try to get everything put together to where we could do the presentation and it went well today.”

White said “this is the worst thing we ever can face when it’s involving children.” A critical incident debriefing was held Thursday morning for those involved in the case. Knoxville Police Department’s peer stress support team was called in for help.

“They were here at 8 o’clock (Thursday) morning and we had roughly 20 different public safety professionals in this building and it was about a 2 1/2-hour event,” White said. “After speaking with our employees, they felt like it was a really good process to let them grieve and talk through this incident. ... Pray for our community. This was a hard week.”

The next scheduled Loudon County grand jury is April 13, Johnson said.

“Another aspect somewhat driving this meeting is that we are still without a jury-capable courtroom for murder trials where defendants are in custody,” he said. “Going ahead with the indictment helps to at least put this case in the pipeline where we can be ready to schedule these cases when the county commission and/or the legislature comes up with a solution for us. Also, with the coronavirus hype there is reason to suspect all courts in Tennessee will be closed by the Tennessee Supreme Court today until the end of the month.”