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Security heightened as suspect in beating death of child arraigned

December 15th, 2011 10:11 pm by Jeff Bobo

ROGERSVILLE — Two armed Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office deputies stood facing the audience in Hawkins County Circuit Court with their back to Amber Beth Gibson Thursday morning as she was arraigned on charges stemming from the beating death of 3-year-old Emily Madison Barnard.

Gibson, 25, was originally scheduled to be arraigned on two unrelated robbery charges Thursday.

With heightened security in the courtroom, Judge John Dugger went ahead Thursday with Gibson’s arraignment on charges of first-degree felony murder and aggravated child abuse. The arraignment had previously been set for Feb. 3, 2012.

The public defender’s office announced Thursday it has a conflict of interest and cannot represent Gibson.

Dugger appointed Greene County attorney Douglas Payne to represent Gibson on the murder and child abuse charges for which she was indicted Monday by the Hawkins County grand jury.

Gibson is accused of beating Emily Barnard the morning of July 23, causing injuries that resulted in the child’s death on July 25.

Emily was the daughter of Gibson’s boyfriend at the time, Eric Barnard.

Gibson was baby-sitting the child the morning of July 23 in the camper where the three of them lived in Mooresburg while Emily’s father and grandfather were working.

Rescuers were called to the camper that morning, where they found Emily suffering bruising all over her body, as well as severe head injuries.

Gibson was suspected of causing the injuries from day one, but the sheriff’s office wouldn’t charge her until the autopsy confirmed the child’s death wasn’t accidental.

The sheriff’s office and attorney general’s office received Emily’s autopsy report last Friday, which stated Emily died from multiple blunt force traumas to the head.

Gibson currently faces a potential sentence of life in prison, which in Tennessee equals 60 years with an 85 percent release eligibility.

Dugger explained to Gibson during her arraignment, however, that the attorney general still has the option of filing aggravating circumstances, such as the child’s age, which could increase the potential penalty to life without parole or the death penalty.

Attorney General Berkeley Bell told the Times-News following Gibson’s arraignment that it’s too early to determine if any aggravating circumstances will be filed in the case.

The aggravated child abuse charge carries a potential penalty of 15 to 25 years, which must be served at 100 percent.

Gibson is next scheduled to appear in criminal court on the murder and child abuse charges on Oct. 22, 2012, for a status hearing.

Gibson is also facing two unrelated robbery charges, and attorney Daniel Scott was appointed to represent her in those two cases.

She is charged with aggravated robbery stemming from the highly publicized Jan. 25 “blind date robbery” in which she was allegedly set up on a blind date by one accomplice, and then lured the victim to a rural area where he was robbed at gunpoint by two other accomplices.

Her three alleged accomplices in that case have pleaded guilty and are serving prison sentences.

Dugger scheduled that case for an Oct. 22 status hearing as well.

Gibson was also indicted Monday on one count of especially aggravated robbery in the June 10, 2010, beating and robbery of a retired Rogersville businessman.

A Feb. 13, 2012, trial date was set in that case.

Gibson remains held in the Hawkins County jail on $500,000 bond.

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