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There's a horrific story out of East Tennessee.  Two years ago, a five-year-old girl from Surgoinsville--about half an hour west of Kingsport--died after being forced to drink so much soda and water that her brain swelled. Now her father and stepmother are charged with killing her.

Randall Vaughn and his wife Mary will face trial in October. A judge ordered Friday that Mary Vaughn be represented by a public defender. Randall Vaughn will seek a private attorney. The couple did not enter a plea. They are jailed on $500,000 bond each.

According to the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office and the autopsy report, Alexa Linboom was brought in to the emergency room on Jan. 1, 2012, by the Vaughns.

The girl was blue and unresponsive with "an abnormal body posture that indicates severe brain damage," according to the autopsy, which was completed in July 2013.

The Vaughns were arrested on Wednesday.

An investigation revealed the girl had been forced to drink approximately 2.4 liters of water and soda over one to two hours as punishment. The massive intake of fluid caused her brain to swell and herniate.

According to the autopsy, when she was forced to drink all that liquid, she began vomiting, urinated on herself and asked to take a bath.

"Outside of the bathtub, she tried to eat oatmeal with assistance then started clenching her hands." She arrived at the hospital about 2 to 3 hours later.

"Caretakers told hospital staff that during the ride to the hospital, she sat up in the vehicle and played patty cake," according to the autopsy.

She was transported by air to a regional hospital where she was pronounced brain dead two days later.

To make this more grotesque, Alexa had moved to Tennessee to live with her dad due to allegations of neglect at her previous home.  Local DA Berkeley Bell told the Kingsport Times-News that while there was no history of abuse, the Vaughns employed "alternative forms of punishment."  I shudder to think of what some of those "alternative forms" were.  This sounds like a complete failure of the system.

The Vaughns were arraigned this morning on charges of first-degree murder, child abuse and child neglect.  Both are in jail on $500,000 bond apiece.  According to Bell, this is a first-degree murder case because of Tennessee's "Scotty Trexler Law."  That law is named after a toddler from Rogersville who died in 1987 enduring harsh abuse from his mother's boyfriend.  The boyfriend was only found guilty of second-degree murder because a jury found Scotty's death wasn't premeditated.  This didn't sit well with area residents, who got the law changed so that any death resulting from aggravated child abuse or neglect is automatically bumped up to first-degree murder.  Hopefully Bell will opt against the death penalty.  As ghastly as this crime was, the best punishment for these two is to make them live out the rest of their lives in prison.

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