Man charged in death of 7-month-old appears in court

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BENTON COUNTY, Tenn. — Shocking and damning testimony was heard against a Benton County man charged in the beating death of a 7-month-old baby boy. His former girlfriend, the infant’s mother, was one of three people to take the stand Wednesday. The county medical investigator who first examined the child’s body also testified. “What appeared to me from observation was a hand print to the left side of the baby’s face,” said Steve Cantrell, Benton County medical examiner. Cantrell told the judge Joseph Hilliard even had injuries on his toes. “Pending the autopsy, it looked like cigarette burns,” Cantrell said. “But they could have been bug bites.” The baby’s mother said she and Yates were dating and that he often took care of Joseph at their home in Holladay. “He would change JoJo’s diaper if he needed it,” Tiffany Hilliard said. “[He would] feed him if I was busy doing something else.” Hilliard also told prosecutors she had no idea anything was wrong at the home until she got a text message from Yates. “There was a text on my phone when I got back to my van.” Hilliard said. “It said ‘get home now.'” According to TBI agent Brent Holt, Yates said in an interview he tried to keep the baby quiet by hitting his head against a playpen. The baby then became unresponsive, according to his statement. “He does not know how many times he hit the child nor how hard he was hitting the child,” Holt said. “He said he was trying to wake it up by slapping it.” Yates showed no emotion throughout the more than two hours of gripping testimony “He stated that he killed the child and that he wished he was dead,” Holt said. “He wanted us to shoot him.” Holt also testified Yates hopes someone in prison will kill him. He currently is being kept in isolation at the Benton County Jail. “We’re just trying to hold him in there for his own protection,” Benton County Sheriff Kenny Christopher said. “We’re also keeping him on watch at all times, suicide watch.” Yates’ case has been bound over to the Benton County grand jury.

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