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Jury: Couple not guilty of toddler abuse

November 19, 2013
A Maury County couple was found not guilty of aggravated child abuse after a six-day trial focused on the cause of multiple bruises found on a toddler.

Greg and Jennifer Wood of Mt. Pleasant were indicted in July 2010 on three counts each of aggravated child abuse stemming from alleged incidents November 2009, December 2009 and May 2010. The child was two years old at the time of the alleged abuse.

“We’re very pleased with the verdict,” Jason Whatley, attorney for the Woods, said Tuesday. “It’s just another case of how things get blown out of proportion.”

The couple was indicted after the child’s mother, Lori McFarland, and grandmother told the Department of Children’s Services they found bruising on her daughter’s face and buttocks when the child was returned from her father’s house for regular visitation time.

Officials said McFarland didn’t tell authorities she suspected abuse until months after she began seeing bruises on her daughter.

“She was essentially giving the Woods the benefit of the doubt,” Assistant District Attorney Brent Cooper said Tuesday. “You never want to think your child is being abused, especially in the home of their father.”

Whatley said McFarland claimed the abuse began during the spring or summer of 2009, but did nothing to stop Greg Wood from being able to see his daughter.

“After Christmas, when she saw the bruises this little girl had, she did nothing to stop visitation. Mr. Wood explained to her what happened and she didn’t ask him any questions beyond what he told her,” Whatley said.

Whatley said he believes the jury found the Woods innocent because of the prosecution’s limited evidence that the bruises were the result of anything other than accidents, or even a medical condition.

He said doctors consulted during the investigation were given incomplete information about the circumstances of the injuries, which might have led to hasty accusations.

Whatley said after an incident that occurred in May 2010, McFarland discovered a large bruise on her daughter’s face. The skin around the bruise had reddened, suggesting the injury could have resulted from an intentional blow to the face by a hand or an object.

Whatley said he explained in court that nobody could have known where the bruise came from, because the child had been alone in her room after she was put down for a nap.

“She was only two years old at the time, so she couldn’t really verbalize what happened,” Whatley said.

He said his clients heard the child cry out from her bedroom, and when they both went to check on her, she pointed toward her bed and said, “Bed, owie.”

“She could have rolled out of the bed, or she could have been awake and playing in the room. Maybe she fell and hit her head on the metal bed frame. Nobody knows because nobody was with her,” Whatley said.

He added that the redness could be explained by a homemade ice pack improperly applied directly to the skin, causing a mild form of frostbite.

Cooper said the verdict is not what he and McFarland had hoped for, but that the child is now old enough to verbalize if she is ever mistreated.

“The case was entirely circumstantial in evidence,” he said Tuesday. “It wasn’t an easy case to prove.”

Whatley said Jennifer Wood, who worked as a pediatric nurse before the allegations surfaced, was stripped of her license but remained working at her clinic, only in a different position. He said Greg Wood was fired from his job as a bus driver for Maury County Public Schools and is now self employed. Both will now have to work to rebuild their name.

“It doesn’t matter what they say, or what they try to do. If you’re labeled as a child abuser, that sticks with you, even if you’re proven innocent,” Whatley said. “It’s one of the worst things you can be called.”

This article was originally printed in the Daily Herald on 06 March 2012.

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