A Tennessee judge on Monday sentenced a Hawkins County couple to 35 years in prison each for killing a 5-year-old girl by forcing to her to drink so much grape soda it caused her brain to swell.
The Associated Press reports Randall Lee Vaughn, 41, and Mary Lavonne Vaughn, 58, had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated child neglect for the death of Alexa Linboom, Randall Vaughn’s biological daughter.
The young girl died Jan. 3, 2012, at Niswonger Children’s Hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee. The Vaughns had taken the girl to a hospital near their home when she became unresponsive on Jan. 1. The young patient was flown by helicopter to the children’s hospital where she died two days later.
An autopsy and subsequent two-year investigation determined that Alexa Linboom died of acute fluid/water intoxication causing hyponatremic encephalopathy, meaning her brain swelled because sodium levels in her body dropped so low that excessive water was allowed to enter her brain cells.
Attorney General Berkeley Bell charged the parents with first-degree murder, saying the death was the result of a bizarre punishment.
“Allegedly the child, as a form of punishment, was forced to drink grape drinks, as well as a great deal of water, to the point that her body became water intoxicated,” Bell told The Kingsport Time-News. “That led to her brain swelling and all of her systems shutting down, and to her eventual brain death.
“The punishment was allegedly for stealing a grape drink. I don’t know exactly how much liquid she drank, but there was 4.5 12-ounce drinks plus water in-between,” he added.
Bell said the parents were negligent because they waited too long before taking the girl to the hospital.
“Our position is it was a matter of several hours after the child started exhibiting serious symptoms, after the child was screaming out in pain, went into a paralyzed state, and became unconscious,” Bell said.
The Vaughns were caring for five other children at the time of Linboom’s death. The couple had not previously been investigated for abuse.
“They did employ some alternative forms of punishment, and I’ll just leave it at that,” Bell said.
The other five children have been placed in foster care.