Ayonjaleea Phillips pleads guilty of child endangerment, sentenced to 18 years

John Thompson • Apr 12, 2018 at 9:58 PM

ELIZABETHTON — Ayonjaleea Phillips, 27, was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Thursday afternoon after she pleaded guilty to aggravated child endangerment of a child under 8 years old.

Phillips was the mother of Ja'Kari LaDrell Phillips, who died in November 2016 from severe injuries allegedly received from his stepfather, Demetrius Deshawn Covington. Covington is scheduled to go on trial in September on a charge of first-degree murder of the child.

Phillips will have to serve most of her prison sentence. Although she has never been convicted of a crime before, the state sentencing law requires that a person convicted of aggravated child endangerment of a child under the age of 8 must serve at least 85 percent of the sentence before being eligible for parole. Phillips will receive credit for time served since her March 13, 2016, arrest until now.

The courtroom was silent on Thursday as Phillips stood before Judge Lisa Rice and pleaded guilty to the charge. Her attorney, Scott Shults, stood by her side as she answered detailed questions from Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle about how her son was injured in 2016.

Phillips said Covington used a wooden hair brush to beat the 3-year-old on his head, face, chest and the bottoms of his feet. She said Covington also made the boy stand in a corner for hours without sitting or using the bathroom.

She described an incident during the first weekend of November 2016. Phillips said she woke up and realized Covington was hitting the boy with the brush as he was in bed and the child was standing.

"How hard was he hitting?" McArdle asked. Phillips said he was "using a lot of force, he was holding him with one arm and hitting him with the other. I tried to get him to stop." She said Ja'Kari was crying and screaming and trying to pull away.

After that, she said the boy's face was badly bruised and was completely blue. It was so bad that she did not let the boy attend his preschool class. Phillips said she urged Covington not to punish her son so hard, and had tried to come between him and the boy. She said Covington had told her he was going to be less strict

The final incident took place on Nov. 18, 2016. She had left the boy with Covington while she was at work. Phillips said she got a text from Covington to call her. When she did, she said he told her the boy had fallen in the bathtub and she needed to come home.

McArdle asked Phillips how Covington had sounded when he called her at work. Phillips said Covington sounded “a little panicked.”

When Phillips returned home, she found the child having difficulty breathing and decided to take him to the emergency room. She was en route when JaKari’s breathing became much worse. She phoned 911 for help. As a result, Phillips stopped the car and began administering CPR.

Police officers quickly responded and took over administering CPR until the boy could be taken to the hospital. The child was initially listed in critical condition.

In the arrest report for Covington, Elizabethton Police Department Investigator Christopher Bowers said “upon observation, Phillips was found to have numerous bruises over his face, neck, torso, back, bottom, legs and foot.” He said the child became unresponsive and was placed on life support.

Police could not find Covington after the incident. He was later arrested in Ohio and brought back to Carter County. He is being held in the Carter County Jail on $1 million bond.

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