WATE 6 On Your Side Legal Analyst explains potential trial process, investigation for infant found dead in car

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – A grand jury has indicted the mother of a 6-month-old child found dead in a car at a grocery store on murder and neglect charges, Knoxville police announced Friday.

Chantae Cabrera, 30, was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday for first-degree murder, felony murder and aggravated child neglect after a week-long criminal investigation involving the Department of Child Services. She was taken into custody without incident by members of the Smoky Mountain Fugitive Task Force.

Investigators are not sharing what caused the baby’s death; however, Knoxville police say the indictment is the result of an investigation into Cabrera leaving her child in a hot car on August 9th.

Cabrera’s 6-month-old son was found dead on Aug. 9 in a vehicle located at the Food City on Clinton Highway.

We spoke with Greg Isaacs, WATE 6 On Your Side’s Legal Analyst, who says there is still much to be learned from that day.

“We know that when people came to the vehicle, the child was non-responsive, was found dead. So, it’s a big mystery for the investigators and the prosecutors to prove as this case goes forward,” Isaacs said.

Isaacs explained investigations like this are handled two ways: “One, you are going to hire your own forensic pathologist, you want to know the cause of death, you want to know the time of death, post-mortum interval. But then you want to know what was going on inside the mind of the accused. What was the mother’s intent? Because under Tennessee law, each of these very serious crimes requires a mens rea or intent element.”

There are a number of questions investigators are not answering: We don’t know the cause of death, how long the baby was in the car, why he was left there and if anyone else will be facing charges.

Isaacs explained why investigators are sharing so little.

“That’s smart, because you don’t want to have law enforcement or prosecutors make extra-judicial or pre-trial statements,” Isaacs said. “That puts bullets in the defense arsenal where you can ask for a change of venue. Also, you might say the wrong thing and taint a perspective jury venire. But, this case is still evolving because what’s going to be key is – the prosecution has to prove causation. It’s feasible that the child could have died from natural causes. So, what’s going to be pre-eminent is the findings of the Knox County Medical Examiner and the autopsy of that young child is going to be front and center as this case moves forward.”

When it comes to what the community is wanting to know, Isaacs says we need to remember Cabrera is innocent until proven guilty.

“And she does not have to prove her innocence whatsoever. It’s up to the state of Tennessee to prove each and every element beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Isaacs.

Since August, we’ve been receiving a number of questions from viewers as to why this investigation has taken several weeks and why the public is not being told more. We continued following this case and asking KPD those questions.

On Friday, Knoxville police officials told us investigators have been working tirelessly around the clock to understand what happened August 9th. KPD adding these investigations take time.

We checked to see if Cabrera has a prior criminal history.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation tells us based on its records, Cabrera has no criminal history in the state of Tennessee.

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