UPDATE: Carter County judge ponders bond for man accused of killing toddler

John Thompson • Updated Dec 5, 2016 at 4:59 PM

ELIZABETHTON — A man accused of first-degree murder in the death of his 3-year-old stepson made his initial appearance in a Carter County court on Monday.

Demetrius Deshawn Covington, 28, was arraigned in General Sessions Court Monday morning on counts of first-degree murder and aggravated child neglect in the death of Ja’Kari Phillips. He will be back in court today on a bond hearing.

After Covington stated under oath that he had no assets or income, attorney Gregory Norris was appointed by General Sessions Judge Keith Bowers Jr. to represent Covington. Assistant District Attorney General Mark Hill is the prosecutor.

Covington waived his right to a preliminary hearing in 10 days. Bowers set the preliminary hearing for Jan. 13. Hill argued that Covington continue to be held in the Carter County Jail without bond. He argued against a bond because of the seriousness of the case involving the death of a 3-year-old and because Covington was found in Dayton, Ohio, after the boy’s mother took the child to the hospital. Norris argued that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty and asked that a bond be set.

Out of court, Norris said everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

The arraignment was nearing its end on Monday morning when the fire alarm in the Carter County Justice Center began sounding. In accordance with procedures, Bowers informed everyone in the courtroom to evacuate the building. As the gallery began an orderly exit, someone shouted “Justice for Ja’Kari.”

After the Elizabethton Fire Department checked the building, the court proceedings were restarted. Covington had already been escorted back to the jail and did not appear in court after the fire alarm.

Covington disappeared after Ja’Kari’s mother took the child to the hospital after he allegedly fell in a bathtub on Nov. 18. Covington was initially charged with aggravated child neglect on Nov. 21. That charge was upgraded to first-degree murder on Nov. 22, after Ja’Kari was pronounced dead. Covington was also placed on the TBI’s 10 Most Wanted List at that time.

Covington was found Nov. 23 at an apartment complex on Central Avenue in Dayton, Ohio. He was transported back to Carter County on Dec. 2.

Previously reported by the Press:

An Elizabethton man accused of first-degree murder in the death of his 3-year-old stepson will wait one more day in jail before he knows whether he will be allowed out on bond.

During a hearing interrupted by a false fire alarm, Carter County General Sessions Court Judge Keith Bowers said Monday morning he would wait until Tuesday to make a decision about Demetrius Deshawn Covington’s bond.

Covington, 28, was charged with first-degree murder after his stepson, Ja’Kari Phillips, was rushed to an area hospital on Nov. 18 by his mother with numerous bruises on his face, neck, torso, back, bottom, legs and foot. The 3-year-old lost consciousness, was placed on life support and died in the hospital on Nov. 22.

The boy’s mother, Ayon Jaleea Phillips, told police she left the boy with Covington while she went to work on Nov. 18. Phillips said she was at work when Covington called her and asked her to come home because Ja’Kari had fallen in the bathtub and was injured.

Once Ja’Kari Phillips was transported to the hospital by emergency personnel, police could not find Covington. After the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation put him on its 10 Most Wanted List, he was found and captured by U.S. Marshals at an apartment in Dayton, Ohio.

He was returned Friday to Carter County and scheduled to appear Monday in court.

During the appearance, he was appointed public defender Gregory Norris to represent him. Norris argued Coving had a right to bond out of jail while awaiting trial, while Assistant District Attorney Mark Hill said he represented a flight risk and should be denied bond.

Before the fire alarm interrupted the proceedings, Bowers said he would make a ruling on the bond question Tuesday. After the courtroom-clearing alarm, Covington was not brought back to court from the jail.

Covington’s preliminary hearing in General Sessions Court is scheduled for Jan. 13, when his case may be bound over to Criminal Court.

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