Skip to content

Jury: Couple not guilty of toddler abuse

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.

Parental Relocation in Tennessee

In Tennessee, the parental relocation statute is Tennessee Code Annotated § 36-6-108.  This statute allows parents to petition the court for permission to relocate away from the other parent, perhaps in another State.  For many parents, the specter of relocation understandably frightens them.  One way of assuaging that fear is to understand the statute.  Unfortunately, that can be very difficult.

As with any custody and visitation issue, the best interest of the child guides the court in making a decision to grant or deny a petition to allow relocation.  There are many other factors as well, some of which include: does the relocation have a reasonable purpose, does the relocation pose a threat of specific and serious harm to the child, and the relocating parent’s motive in seeking the relocation.  These are not all of the factors and no one reading this article should act on it without seeking the advice of legal counsel.  The bottom line is that relocation is a process.

The process of relocation begins with a notification to the other parent.  The notice requires specific information to be included.  If you receive such a notice, you should immediately seek the advice of counsel.  There are important deadlines that affect your rights as a parent and which could seriously impact your case.  In most cases, the next step involves filing a petition.  This is how the relocating parent seeks permission from the court to actually relocate.  Once the petition is filed, the other parent may file a petition to oppose the relocation.  Again, legal counsel is highly recommended because of serious deadlines.  Eventually, there will be a hearing after which the court will make a decision.

The General Assembly might have made this process a little easier by drafting a much simpler statute.  For example, the statute might read: “Any parent seeking to move more than 100 miles away from the other parent or to another State must petition the court for approval.”  Without all the unnecessary verbiage and grandiose rules, such a statute would result in much greater understanding by parents in Tennessee.  Instead, we have a statute that can be complicated and which makes clarity unnecessarily elusive.

At Whatley & Associates, a significant portion of our practice is devoted to domestic law.  If you believe that you have received a parental relocation notice or a petition like those described above, you should immediately seek the advice of a competent professional.  Give us a call and set an appointment to meet with us today.

Author: George Clark Shifflett, III
George is an Associate Attorney with Whatley & Associates and can be reached by calling (931) 388-4288.

This article is reproduced here for informative purposes only and not intended as legal or any other kind of advice.  No one should act on the information contained herein without seeking the advice of a licensed attorney or other competent professional.  Please see our Disclaimer page.

Welcome to our new website!

After over a decade of providing legal services, we are only now launching the first-ever website devoted to Whatley & Associates.  The website is in process, so please visit in a week or so to see more elements and content added.  It is our hope that this website will be helpful and informative for existing and prospective clients alike.  Thanks to our many loyal friends for making this possible.