Editor’s note: The following content contains material that includes descriptions of child abuse and may not be suitable to all audiences.

One year after authorities discovered alleged signs of child abuse in a Carter County home, the mother charged in the case is now standing trial to determine the outcomes of those charges.
Douglas Hart Jr. and Elizabeth Hart, of Dickson, were taken into custody and later charged after police were dispatched to their home Aug. 9, 2018, in reference to a child who had suffered injuries, according to witness testimony heard by a Carter County jury on Tuesday.
During day two of the trial for Elizabeth Hart, the jury learned that Douglas Hart Jr. was charged with child abuse, which he pleaded guilty to, and Elizabeth Hart was charged with enabling child abuse in the case.

Marie Odell, a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteer who was appointed to the case, was the first witness called to stand. CASA volunteers act as advocates for abused or neglected children by monitoring the case until a permanent plan is approved by the court.

Odell said there were around eight children living in the residence with Douglas and Elizabeth Hart prior to the incident. The two children that were believed to have been abused were a 1-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, she testified.

According to Odell’s testimony, Douglas Hart Jr. had a previous incident of child abuse with a different partner. Odell said the last time she visited the Hart residence in April, 2018, the children and the condition of the home appeared to be fine.

However, had she known about the conditions that lead up to the Aug. 9 incident, she would not have recommended closure of the case, she testified.

Destiny Cox, Elizabeth Hart’s sister, also testified. On the night of Aug. 9, 2018, Cox said she received a text message from her sister saying, “Come get me, please hurry.”

According to Cox, Elizabeth Hart got into her vehicle with three of her biological children and Cox drove them to their mother’s house. Cox called the sheriff’s department shortly after, despite objections from Elizabeth Hart.

There was some speculation among witnesses as to why Elizabeth Hart objected to calling the police, however, Cox testified that Elizabeth Hart was afraid that the Department of Human Services would take her children away.

District Attorney Craig Ladd played a recording of Cox’s 911 call for the jury, in which Cox could be heard asking police to go to the residence where the 1-year-old child had been beaten. “Her husband was beating their kids to where they weren’t breathing,” Cox told dispatchers during the call.

Dickson Chief of Police David Boes said he was dispatched to the scene. Upon arrival, he found Douglas Hart Jr. standing outside holding the boy in his arms. Ladd played the body and dash cam footage for the jury, allowing for the child’s labored breathing and crying to be heard and seen.

Douglas Hart Jr. could be heard telling Boes that the child had fallen and that the boy fell a lot.

Boxes of tissues were passed around the jury and Boes sat with his hands over his face as the footage played. Elizabeth Hart also began to tear up while watching.

Boes said the child had injuries to his face, cigarette burns and bruises on his legs, torso, chin, chest and neck.

In addition to signs of child abuse, multiple witnesses testified that the residence was filthy, with dog and cat feces, trash and clothes thickly scattered throughout the home and bed bugs and cockroaches living among them. Over 60 photos of the home were taken after the incident and submitted as evidence.

Before concluding for the day, the jury was shown three separate videos of witnesses testifying, for a total of eight witnesses in one day. The last few witnesses were children, ages seven, eight and nine, who had been living in the home at the time of the incident and some time prior.

All three children testified that eight of them were sharing a home. “There were so much kids in that house,” one child said. And all three stated that the 1-year-old boy and 3-year-old girl had been abused.

According to the children, the 1-year-old boy would be hurt by Douglas Hart Jr. for no apparent reason. “He always got hurt for nothing,” the 7-year-old girl said.

Two of the children also testified that they had attempted to tell Elizabeth Hart about the abuse, but that when they did she dismissed them or would get on to them.

“She would just watch him being hurt,” the 8-year-old boy said. “She would see it and hear it and not do anything.”