Kingsport man avoids death penalty in 2005 murder of toddler
By Kacie Breeding
BLOUNTVILLE — A Kingsport man who potentially faced the death penalty if found guilty of killing his girlfriend’s toddler son has agreed to a last-minute plea deal.
Shawn Anthony Mullins, 27, was headed to trial Monday morning on charges of first-degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse and neglect stemming from the 2005 death of 2-year-old Christopher David Smith by means of severe physical abuse.
Mullins was 22 on March 30, 2005, when Heather Collins found her 2-year-old son unresponsive at a friend’s home on Robin Lane where the couple had been staying.
At the time, Mullins had been left alone with the boy for about two hours, according to investigators.
Christopher reportedly was suffering from cardiac arrest and was rushed to a local hospital, where he later died.
Prior to Christopher’s death, Mullins and Collins had been scheduled to meet with a Department of Children’s Services worker on April 2, 2005, to discuss allegations of child abuse. Those complaints were filed with the Kingsport Police Department in February and March of that year by family of the boy’s father.
Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office Detective Lt. Bobby Russell told the Times-News in 2005 that the boy had been beaten repeatedly, suffering multiple broken bones and bruises that were in various stages of healing.
On Monday, Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Barry Staubus advised the judge if the case had gone to trial, the evidence would show the boy suffered injuries to his heart, kidney and brain in addition to a broken arm and leg.
Staubus said testimony would have shown evidence that Mullins was jealous of the boy.
According to court records, when the boy cried Mullins would say he “‘wished the little (expletive) would die” and cover his mouth in an attempt to make him stop.
Mullins was accused of picking Christopher up by his head; throwing him into his crib; striking him with his fist, palm and the back of his hand; kicking him in the back and knocking him to the ground; and placing a bucket over his head and striking the bucket as the boy walked around, according to court documents.
Additionally, Mullins was accused of forcing Christopher to inhale marijuana smoke and consume alcohol, according to court documents.
A report prosecutors received Thursday from one of their own expert witnesses “changed the evidence that would be presented to the jury, and as a result we entered this plea,” said Staubus.
The late pathology report “put some serious questions into the state’s timeline,” said Mullins’ attorney, John Eldridge.
As a result, the state allowed Mullins to enter Alford, or “best interest,” pleas to second-degree murder and aggravated child abuse in exchange for 30 years in prison with 100 percent service.
“We’re pleased with the outcome. And I think our client, Shawn Mullins, is quite resolved and glad that this episode is over,” Eldridge said.
Staubus said he wasn’t particularly pleased with it, but added that he was glad the plea will “hold Mr. Mullins accountable.”