Jury finds Knox County stepmom guilty in child abuse case

Jessica Cox was found guilty of 24 different counts in an abuse case.

KNOXVILLE - Update Saturday 7:30 p.m.

A jury has found Jessica Cox guilty of beating, starving and burning her two stepsons in 2013 on 24 of the 29 of the counts facing her.

Cox was convicted on 23 counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of reckless endangerment. Each count of aggravated child abuse could carry 8 to 12 years without the possibility of parole. 

District Attorney General Charme Allen said prosecutors will seek consecutive sentences due to the 'heinous, atrocious and cruel nature' of the offense. 

Cox now awaits sentencing, which is is currently scheduled for April 21.

Mike McIntosh, the boys' biological father, pleaded guilty to fifteen counts of aggravated child abuse and one count of child abuse for his role and is also awaiting sentencing.

Update 4:00 p.m.

The prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments earlier Saturday before the jury began deliberating to try and reach a verdict. 

The prosecution asked the jury to find her guilty on each count of aggravated child abuse, saying Cox was ultimately responsible for the abuse whether it was carried out by her or someone else.

The defense denied Cox was involved in any wrongdoing, and that she had suffered from depression and other conditions. Attorney Rhonda Lee said it was McIntosh who was to blame for the abuse. 

Updated Friday 4:30 p.m. 

Closing arguments will take place Saturday morning in the trial of Jessica Cox. 

Her defense team wrapped their case on Friday after Cox took the stand and denied ever abusing her children.

She directed the blame at the boy's biological father, Mike McIntosh. During his testimony on Wednesday, McIntosh admitted to abusing his sons, but claimed it was their stepmother, Cox, who directed the brutal treatment. 

During the early part of her testimony Friday, attorneys brought up the question of McIntosh's character.  

She described him as insecure and possessive. She explained that he liked to keep track of her and even the mileage on her car. She said that McIntosh progressively got more aggressive toward his teen children. 

"Both of the boys have had their father kick them on the ground, punch them, things kids should never have to experience," Cox said.

The abuse allegations came to light after Austin McIntosh and his younger brother escaped from their home in May 2013 while handcuffed together. They showed up more than three miles away at Farragut High School early one morning. 

In describing that night, Cox said Mike woke her up to say the boys were gone and they went to search for them together.

She also claimed that she never made them kneel on rice, handcuffed, burned, or starved any of them.  

"I never intended to fail so miserably ... but I never abused these children," Cox told the jury.  

During Friday's testimony, Cox also discussed her medical history and trouble with MS, depression and addiction. 

Updated Thursday 3 p.m.

Attorneys began their arguments Thursday in defense of Jessica Cox, the West Knox County woman accused of brutally beating, starving and burning her two stepsons in 2013.

Cox's biological son, Trevor Cox, took the stand Thursday afternoon. Austin McIntosh and his younger brother have often said that their stepmother treated Cox more fairly. 

Cox testified that he witnessed the boys' father, Mike McIntosh, handcuff and beat them with several household objects, but never saw his mother handcuff them. Cox claims that he also saw McIntosh act violently and threaten Jessica Cox.

"Did you ever feel like Mike McIntosh might kill your mother?" an attorney asked Cox. He replied, "yes, ma'am."

Cox also said he never saw his mother tell the boys they couldn't eat.

Trevor Cox claims his mother took medication for multiple sclerosis and epilepsy and says she was not physically strong.

Defense attorneys also called the lead detective from the case, Knox County Sheriff's deputy Tonia McFarland, to the stand. 

The defense asked McFarland about several details of the investigation, some of which she did not remember. Later, McFarland testified that the boys' forensic interviews were the longer of her entire career and said she could not possibly remember every detail.

McFarland admitted to the defense that no one collected DNA evidence from the rubber mallet or can opener that she believes Jessica Cox used to beat the boys, despite the fact that McFarland directed her team to do so. When attorneys asked her why, McFarland could not produce an answer. She did argue that DNA evidence would not have added anything to her investigation, as the DNA of people living in the home would have been on both the items anyway.

The prosecution rested its case Thursday, after its final witness said the injuries of two children who sought medical treatment in 2013 were consistent with their stories of abuse.

Dr. Marymer Perales is an abuse expert and pediatric doctor at East Tennessee Children's hospital. That is where Austin McIntosh, who was 16 at the time, and his younger brother were taken, after a custodian found them handcuffed together at Farragut High School.

Perales said both boys were "sad, skinny and dirty" when she first treated them. She said she believed their tales of starvation and neglect. The younger brother told her that he had not eaten properly for 2 weeks. He weighed only 105 pounds. His older brother, Austin said he had not had a real meal ni 4 months and weighed 120 pounds.

Updated Wednesday 2 p.m. 

A Knox County father who admitted to abusing his two sons claims it was their stepmother who directed the brutal treatment. 

Michael McIntosh provided emotional testimony on the stand Wednesday morning as a witness for the prosecution during the trial of Jessica Cox.

Cox was arrested in 2013 on accusations that she burned, starved, and handcuffed her two teen stepsons. 

The abuse allegations came to light after Austin McIntosh and his younger brother escaped from their home in May 2013 while handcuffed together. They showed up more than three miles away at Farragut High School early one morning. 

Michael McIntosh on Wednesday broke into tears in court, saying he failed as a parent and there was no excuse for treating the boys this way. 

"I failed so miserably. I loved those boys to death. There was no reason for it to go the way it did," McIntosh said. 

He also explained that he had lied during previous testimony related to the case. He claims he colluded with Cox during a preliminary hearing to make the boys seem dangerous and disrespectful.


But now McIntosh said they were actually well behave boys and didn't deserve any of the so-called punishments that they suffered. 

"Do I think I'm a good father?" he asked while in court. "No. No, I don't."

He added that he didn't want to anger his wife and believed her when she said the boys needed punishment. He described the abuse as starvation, forcing the older brother, Austin, to kneel on dry rice for up to an hour, and handcuffing the boys for days at a time to cabinets and stoves. 

When defense attorneys cross examined McIntosh, they asked why he didn't interview. He claimed he didn't want to anger Jessica, his wife, who controlled the relationship. 

Unlike Cox, McIntosh is pleading guilty to all charges in hopes of a reduced sentence. 

Five Knox County Sheriff's Office deputies also took the stand on Wednesday and went through all the evidence collected from the scene including forensics and pictures of the boys' injuries. 

Prosecutors plan to call their final witness to the stand on Thursday morning. 

If convicted on all counts, Cox and McIntosh could face anywhere from 15 years to life in prison. 

Court updates from Tuesday, March 8 

Two East Tennessee brothers provided graphic details in court on Tuesday describing what one called a long history of abuse by their stepmother, Jessica Cox.

Austin McIntosh was 16 years old when Cox was arrested in 2013. She sat in court on Tuesday as Austin took the stand during the first full day of testimony. 

He said Cox took him out of school in Jan. 2013 after she caught him during a sexual act with another boy. 

Austin explained that his step-mom would handcuff him and his younger brother to the kitchen cabinet, starving him for days at a time and often forcing him to stand handcuffed for a week at a time. 

RELATED: Mom accused of burning, beating, handcuffing step-kids

Two cabinets were entered into evidence on Tuesday for the jury to see. 

When the brothers tried to eat, Austin testified that Cox would punish them, even forcing him to eat cockroaches on more than one occasion. 


Cox was charged with child abuse and aggravated child neglect after Austin and his younger brother, then ages 14 and 16, escaped from their home in May 2013 while handcuffed together and showed up more than three miles away at Farragut High School early one morning. 

Custodian Richard Huff found them and called 911. 

"I'm here at Farragut High School. I've got two little boys here," said Huff in the 911 recording.  "They're handcuffed together. Their parents have handcuffed them together."

RELATED: Investigators seize cabinets at child abuse suspect's home

In court on Tuesday, Austin described several times Cox beat him with a rubber mallet, a rolling pin, and even a can opener. He testified how his stepmother once pulled down his pants and burned the tip of his penis with a cigarette. 

The prosecution's evidence including several photos showing bruises covering Austin from head to toe. 

When asked why he didn't try to escape, he said he was too afraid. 

"This was the only type of lifestyle I had known. it was all I knew," McIntosh said in court. 

Austin's younger brother took the stand after he finished testifying on Tuesday afternoon. 

© 2017 WBIR.COM


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