An East Tennessee couple has been sentenced to 35 years in prison each for their role in the death of a 5-year-old girl forced to drink so much grape soda it caused her brain to swell.
Randall Lee Vaughn, 41, and Mary Lavonne Vaughn, 58, of Surgoinsville, Tennessee, were sentenced Monday in Hawkins County Criminal Court.
Randall is the girl’s biological father and Mary Vaughn was her stepmother. The abuse that led to the girl’s death was punishment for “stealing her stepmother’s drinks.” The couple entered a guilty plea to second-degree murder and aggravated child neglect.
Alexa Linboom was suffering from extreme brain damage when she was brought to an emergency room on January 1, 2012, by her father, Randall Vaughn. An investigation found the young girl had been forced to drink the water and soda in one to two hours as punishment after taking one of her stepmother’s drinks.
The huge intake of fluid caused her brain to swell and herniate, which led to her death on January 3, 2012. Although rare, water intoxication and fluid overload can lead to death, usually in situations like Alexa’s when the individual is forced to drink instead of self-regulating their own fluids.
Attorney-General Berkeley Bell told the Times News that after allegedly forcing their child to drink an excessive amount of fluid, they failed to seek immediate medical help. It is alleged that she was forced to drink approximately one gallon of fluids. Bell said that despite desperate signs of distress of the child, medical care was delayed by the parents for hours.
“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 [that they sought help].”
After a two-year investigation, it was found that Alexa was killed by acute fluid intoxication, which caused hyponatremic encephalopathy. This means that her body had serious levels of sodium depletion as a result of so much fluid consumption, and this caused her brain to swell. Eventually, the massive swelling causes the brain to separate from the brain stem, leading to coma and brain death.
Bell said there was no history of abuse on record at the Vaughan family home, but added: “They did employ some alternative forms of punishment.” In addition to drinking more than 2 liters of fluids in about two hours, she also suffered other forms of punishment, Bell told the affiliate. He did not get into specifics.
Do you think 35 years is enough of a sentence for this couple?
[image via Linboom family]