Erick Eugene Jones Jr. was sentenced last week to 50 years in prison in connection with the December 2014 deaths of Kynsleigh Easterly and Trinity Brooke Tweed, in addition to six more years for an unrelated offense.
Kendra Lashae Tweed, the mother of the little girls, had a May 13, 2019, Greene County Criminal Court trial date set Friday.
Tweed, 25, had a trial date set by Judge John F. Dugger Jr. She was charged in November 2015 with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated child endangerment and two counts of aggravated child neglect in connection with the Dec. 17, 2014, deaths of 14-month-old Kynsleigh and 2-month-old Trinity.
The girls were found unresponsive on the morning of Dec. 17, 2014, in the North Hardin Street house they lived in with their mother, Jones and a 3-year-old daughter of Tweed’s who was staying with a relative that night and was not injured.
Testimony at Jones’ September Criminal Court jury trial revealed that the girls died of separation of their spinal cords from the bases of their brains. Their bodies were also covered with abrasions, cuts and bruises. Each suffered blunt force trauma injuries and their cause of death was ruled a homicide, trial testimony showed.
Prosecutors sought the death penalty for Jones, who was convicted of lesser counts of of facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse of Kynsleigh Easterly, facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child neglect of Kynsleigh, facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child neglect of Kynsleigh, facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child abuse of Trinity Tweed and facilitation of first-degree felony murder during the perpetration of aggravated child neglect of Trinity.
The jury also found Jones guilty of facilitation or knowing aggravated assault of Kynsleigh, aggravated child neglect of Kynsleigh, facilitation or knowing aggravated assault of Trinity, and aggravated child neglect of Trinity.
Criminal facilitation generally refers to knowingly assisting another person in the commission of a crime.
The prosecution put on more than 20 witnesses at trial with the aim of convincing the jury that Jones, 25, was responsible for the girls’ deaths.
“It was always the state’s theory that he was the one who killed the children,” 3rd Judicial District Attorney General Dan E. Armstrong, lead prosecutor at trial, said after Jones was sentenced by Dugger.
Neither Jones or Tweed testified at Jones’ trial, although at least two statements Jones gave to investigators pointed to Tweed as the person responsible for the deaths of Kynsleigh and Trinity.
Jones gave at least five conflicting statements to investigators that initially implicated the father of one of the little girls. He alternately suggested that a skillet containing Pine-Sol he heated on the stove may have generated fumes that caused the girls’ deaths.
Jones is not the biological father of either victim. Trial testimony showed that Jones was under the influence of drugs when the girls died, and made no effort to call for help until after Tweed returned home on the morning of Dec. 17, 2014.
Tweed was a home health care aid who was looking after an elderly woman in Greeneville several miles away on the night of Dec. 16-17, 2014. Jones said in at least two statements given to police that he called Tweed and told her Kynsleigh had a seizure and she returned home during the night, became upset and violently shook both of the little girls.
Trial testimony showed Kynsleigh had no medical history of seizures.
T. Wood “Woody” Smith, Tweed’s lawyer, said last week after Jones’ sentencing that conflicting versions of events that night given to investigators undermined any credibility he may have had.
Tweed is not responsible for the deaths of her daughters, Smith said.
Tweed is charged with the offenses in connection with a Tennessee statute known as “Haley’s Law,” named after a Campbell County child who suffered serious injuries after enduring severe abuse by her father and stepmother. The law makes it a Class A Felony to abuse a child who is under the age of 9 in a way that leads to bodily injury.
Tweed’s mother and the grandmother of Kynsleigh and Trinity, Donna Greene, said last week after Jones was sentenced that she has no doubt he is the person responsible for the deaths of the children.
“Twenty-five years (for each child) does not cover the loss of my babies,” she said. “How is that justice?”
Kendra Tweed remains deeply affected by the loss of her children as she awaits her trial date, her mother said.
“She is losing her mind,” Greene said.
Jones maintained his innocence at trial. He has a motion hearing set for Jan. 25, 2019, for Dugger to hear arguments by defense lawyers for a new trial.
Tweed remains held on bond in the Greene County Detention Center. She also has three unrelated cocaine possession charges allegedly committed before her arrest in 2015 pending that are also scheduled for trial on May 13, 2019.
Armstrong said after sentencing that he respected the jury’s decision to convict Jones on the lesser facilitation of first-degree murder charge. At trial, prosecutors never wavered from their contention that Jones is the person responsible for the little girls’ deaths.
“Basically, (Dugger) gave him 25 years for each child at 85 percent (release eligibility) and ran those (convictions) consecutively,” Armstrong said.
Kendra Tweed raised the children in an environment where there was alleged drug use and drug sales, prosecutors said after her 2015 arrest.
Armstrong said after Tweed was charged in 2015 that while Jones was charged with murder in the girls’ deaths, she was never ruled out as a suspect.
“It just took a little longer to look at all that happened and develop the evidence,” Armstrong said. “She was always a person of interest in regards to the children’s death.”