What happened at this house in Lawrenceburg on Feb. 20, 2021? Will we ever know? It cost a two-year-old child her life. It cost three people their jobs. And if you listen to the lead investigator, how could you ever trust the system again?
Lawrence Co. investigator (taken from a recording): I’ve been doing this job 22 years. I’ve never seen a blatant disregard for a case as much as I did in this case. I mean it was screwed up from the get go. You had senior people on patrol, in uniform, that showed up as initial responders that have 18, 19 years of experience that didn’t do the basic things they should have done. That’s what’s mindblowing. You have your most senior people that was involved in this case. And it went to shit.
Stephanie Malone: She did it. So why are we still sitting here two years later?
Stephanie Malone says she wasn’t exactly ready to be a grandmother, but she had taken in her son’s teenage girlfriend.
Stephanie Malone: Yeah, I took her on vacations. I bought her things. I graduated her from high school, had her big graduation party. I mean, when she got pregnant. I mean, she was like my daughter.
Demetria Kalodimos: And the pregnancy was unplanned?
Stephanie Malone: My son was 19 at the time. So I was like, no, no, no. But then it happens.
Annelynne Prescott lived long enough to become a sad statistic in the state of Tennessee, one of 569 children who experienced second or subsequent incidents of child abuse in 2021.
Demetria Kalodimos: When did this first allegation of abuse arise? That involved your son? How did that happen?
Stephanie Malone: It was 2019, September of 2019.
The teenage mother who was living with Stephanie went out with friends and stayed out late.
Stephanie Malone: And it was me, Monica my girlfriend, and Jacob and Annelynne. And I always had Annelynne. She was like my child too. But she was fussy that night and whatnot. And you know, Jacob is 19, a first-time father. So Monica and I had her and we were playing with her and we got her to sleep, and I put her to bed. And then the next morning Annelynne, her face was completely bruised up, like, I mean, her whole entire face. And everybody was like, what happened? What happened?
The young mother offered an explanation.
Stephanie Malone: She kind of played it off and was like, maybe the bed rails, she pushed her face up to the bed rails. And then next thing I know, they come and arrest my son.
Lawrence Co. investigator: So you’re familiar with the other incident that somebody else was charged?
Stephanie Malone: My poor child’s life was ruined twice.
Lawrence Co. investigator: But here’s my problem. I noticed this eight months ago. If you look at the bruise patterns, from then and now, you can damn near lay the pictures on top of each other and they match identically. So whoever your offender was then is your offender now.
Stephanie Malone: And my son wasn’t there that night. And that’s the thing. They didn’t investigate that then.
Demetria Kalodimos: Now your son was ultimately convicted of that?
Stephanie Malone: He was. We went to the police station that night. They asked us to write a statement. And they never questioned us. They only questioned my son. They apparently kept telling him that he’s not going to be in trouble. And if he just says that he did it, then you know he wouldn’t be in trouble.
The couple broke up. Annelynne moved with her mother. And Stephanie started her own investigation. Photos, videos, text messages, gathering what she calls evidence of the disturbed young mother.
Stephanie Malone: We’d start to see little bruises on her cheeks like somebody was, you know, grabbing a child’s cheeks like this to talk to them. Then we’d start seeing bruises on her legs or her arms. She brought her over one day with her hand and was like, “we don’t know what was wrong with her hand. We think she put it under the mattress, and you know it got caught with the springs and between the mattress.” Her hand looked like it was mashed in a door. Anytime there was something visible wrong with Annelynne she knew I was going to question her. So she immediately, before you asked me, [said] “This is what happened.”
There was a black eye at Christmas. Then a photo posted to Facebook led to Stephanie calling DCS.
Stephanie Malone: I mean, this baby doesn’t have a voice. She didn’t have a voice then because she couldn’t speak.
On February 4, the report was classified as “priority one.” The veteran caseworker never saw Annelynne in person as required. He relied on FaceTime. The report says there appeared to be a light-colored bruise on her forehead. The mother blamed it on a fall against the coffee table. The next day, the caseworker did see Annelynne and decided that the bruise looked more like a vein. There was no check of medical records, no other body observations, no questioning of the father, the child’s aunt or daycare workers. On Feb. 16, the case was closed, declared “unsubstantiated.” Four days later, Annelynne Prescott was dead.
Stephanie Malone: There’s 23 bruises to her head and face and neck. The back of her head had like an indention, as to where you know, when somebody pushed her head might have been up against the bars of the crib. She had two bilateral black eyes, lacerations inside of her lips, as if, you know, somebody was smothering her.
Lawrence Co. investigator: Well, let me say this about the autopsy. I think he’s telling us without telling us.
Stephanie Malone: He is and he told me that he does believe it was child abuse and basically she was smothered.
Stephanie Malone: This was Annelynne’s favorite toy. It is a little beatle bus. This thing, she played with constantly. She would try to ride it. And then inside it is Annelynne.
Demetria Kalodimos: Oh my goodness.
Stephanie Malone: This is Annelynne.
Both DCS and Lawrence County Law Enforcement declined to talk to us. This conversation you’ve been listening to with the lead investigator is a recording off of Stephanie’s cell phone.
Stephanie Malone: It’s like, I’m going over everybody’s heads. I’ve had enough.
Lawrence Co. investigator: This is going to be a very difficult case to prosecute anybody. And I’m going to tell you why. It’s not for any other reason than this wouldn’t work properly on the front.
Stephanie Malone: I have a video recording, like a two-hour video recording talking with him.
Demetria Kalodimos: What made you take that step?
Stephanie Malone: I got tired of being lied to. I got tired of being just pulled in one direction. You’re telling me you’re doing this. You’re telling me you’re doing that and nobody’s doing anything. So we went and met with him. He was going to salvage all this evidence, that they had evidence salvaged. And he told me I could reach out to him and as long as I wasn’t doing it every day in, which I did not, and now he just refuses to answer anything. He won’t talk to me.
Demetria Kalodimos: That was November right? About a month ago.
Stephanie Malone: No, this was last November.
Demetria Kalodimos: So we’re talking about a year ago November that you made this recording and nothing has happened since?
Stephanie Malone: Not one thing.