Eury found guilty of attempting to light baby on fire

Jul. 25, 2013 @ 06:31 PM

A jury of six men and six women needed just about 40 minutes to convict a local woman of attempted aggravated child abuse and other charges for taking a lighter to a child seat when her infant son in it, three years ago.

Becky Eury has been in jail since shortly after the May 2010 incident. She faces a sentence of eight to 12 years, but she’ll have to wait until a Sept. 5 sentencing hearing to learn if she’ll serve the rest of her time in a prison or be released on probation after she already spent three years in jail. The jury also convicted her on charges of reckless endangerment and setting fire to personal property.

Prosecutors couldn’t provide a reason for her actions, but public defender Amber Haas pointed to a history of mental illness and postpartum depression.

“This was ... an attempt by this lady to get help,” she told the jury, noting the flames had not done much damage to the car seat where Eury’s five-week-old son had been sitting.

“If she truly wanted to hurt her child, there were probably 20 more ways she could have been more successful.”

The child wasn’t hurt in the incident. His 3-year-old brother was in the car but was also unharmed.

Haas said Eury had just been arguing with her husband about what Eury said were improper actions another relative might have taken with their children; she also elicited testimony that Eury had a history of mental illness that included trips to a psychiatrist, admission to a behavioral health center and a visit from a mobile crisis team.

Prosecutors Tim Norris and Patrick Harrell admitted the jury would likely leave with no real understanding of why Eury took those actions, but that wasn’t the point.

“It’s not going to make sense to you,” Norris said in his opening statement. “You’re not going to leave here today knowing why it happened.

“You will still wonder why, but you will not wonder whether it happened.”

Ivan Eury, Becky Eury’s ex husband and father of both children, broke down crying on the stand when prosecutors showed them the car seat.

He described how on that day he had pulled over at a park after taking Eury to the Cocke County Medical Center. She hadn’t slept at that point for three days, he said, but she had refused treatment after going to the hospital.

While he stepped away from the truck to relieve himself, he heard his wife saying the word “burn.” When he turned around, he saw her holding one lighter to the top of the child seat carrying their infant son, while she was trying to get their 3-year-old to apply another lighter on the other side.

“He was fighting as much as a 3-year-old could fight,” Ivan Eury said. “She was yelling at him to set (his brother) on fire, burn his face off, kill him.”

Ivan Eury said he rushed over and took the lighters from his wife, then extinguished the fire with his hand.

He told her he was going to take their sons home, but would come back for her later, and left her at the park.

He took the two children home, made sure they were all right, and called to find someone to look after them before calling law enforcement, he said.

James Breeden, a detective with the sheriff’s office, said he collected the evidence and interviewed the couple. Becky Eury was rambling and difficult to follow at first, but admitted during that conversation that she knew she could have hurt her son, he said.

She also indicated during that time she had been a victim of abuse herself, he said.

Becky Eury, who previously refused to answer Judge Rex Henry Ogle’s questions at hearings concerning a possible plea agreement, would not answer his questions Thursday when he asked if she wanted to testify in her own defense.

Ogle eventually said that, without a positive answer to the question, he would have to rule that she was indicating she would not take the stand.

Haas didn’t call any witnesses; in her closing argument she continued trying to convince the jury that her client’s actions were a cry for help.

“It’s difficult to get your mind around what occurred,” she said. “No thinking person would do that."

jfarrell@themountainpress.com