Although the 1988 Scotty Trexler Law has resulted in child killers since then receiving life sentences, as of Friday the man convicted of killing Scotty Trexler has been free.
On Friday, 48-year-old Kerry Phillip Bowers was released from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary near Memphis, having served more than 26 years of a 36-year sentence.
According to the Tennessee Department of Corrections, Bowers was eligible to earn sentence reduction credits, and over the course of time received a total of 3,391 days of “good time.”
As a result, Bowers’ time is served, and he has no parole obligations.
Third Judicial district Attorney General Berkeley Bell, who prosecuted Bowers and the child’s mother, Tammy Trexler, said he felt Bowers should have received a life sentence.
Bell was surprised to learn Monday from the Times-News that Bowers had been released.
“We weren’t notified he was being released,” Bell said. “For what he did he should never see the light of day. I wish that someone had notified us from the Department of Corrections that he was about to be released. I’m sure they’re very busy and just couldn’t get around to it, but it would have been nice for us to know, and for the people of Hawkins County to know.”
State law at the time of Scotty Trexler’s death required intent or premeditation for a charge of first-degree murder, regardless of the victim’s age. Bowers was found guilty of second-degree murder and received a 35-year sentence, as well as another consecutive year for possession of burglary tools.
Tammy Trexler was convicted of aggravated assault, failure to report child abuse and simple possession of a controlled substance. She completed her prison sentence in the 1990s.
After the facts of Scotty Trexler’s murder were made public, there was a push to change the law, and the “Scotty Trexler Law” was signed by Gov. Ned McWherter in 1988.
The law states that anyone who kills a juvenile during the course of child abuse shall be charged with first-degree murder, regardless of intent or premeditation.
Bell added, “We were devastated by the verdict, but it led myself and others to launch a crusade to get the law changed so that what had happened to that child would, in and of itself, be grounds for first-degree murder. He just brutalized the child. We changed the law so that if you inflict those types of injuries on a child, and a child dies, it’s felony murder. I was pleased that with the help of so many people we were able to get the law changed, but I was never happy with the result of the trial.”
For an expanded version of this article, please see Wednesday’s print edition or our expanded electronic edition.