The Murder of Baby Elena Hembree

Erica Lawson was arrested for the murder of her daughter, 17-month-old Elena H. Elena succumbed to physical and sexual abuse injuries.


Elena H. was born to Erica Lawson, 21, and her father, Trey Hembree. At the time of Elena’s murder, her parents were not together, and she was living with her mother. Investigators do not believe the father was involved in Elena’s death/

Several weeks before the Elena died, her uncle reported suspected child abuse, believing someone had burned the child. When police responded, “they could not find the kid, and the uncle did not know where the kid was at the time.”

Elena’s Murder

On July 28, 2023, 17-month-old Elena H., was rushed to the hospital. She had been physically and sexually abused. The extent of her injuries were too grave for Middlesboro ARH Hospital to treat and was airlifted to the Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Upon being admitted to the hospital, doctors put Elana in a respirator. The doctors tried to save Elena, but she succumbed to her injuries on July 30, 2023.

Investigators have not yet released the full extent of Elena’s injuries.


The night Elena died, detectives interviewed her mother, Erica Lawson, 21. During the interview, detectives surmised Lawson was involved in her daughter’s death, and was arrested.

The investigation revealed that Lawson was aware her daughter was being abused and left bruises on the toddler. It was also revealed that Lawson would use drugs while caring for Elena. The charges (specifically the murder charge) against Lawson would indicate investigators believe she intentionally murdered her daughter.

Investigators have taken DNA from the toddler’s body to identify any individuals that may be responsible for Elena’s murder. Police have not named any other suspects, but they have stated they have been looking into hundreds of leads to bring all culprits to justice. Investigators believe there are other suspects.


Upon arrest, prosecutors initially charged Lawson with 2nd degree Manslaughter, 1st degree failure to report child abuse, 1st degree criminal abuse, and Wanton endangerment. She was placed in the Leslie County Detention Center.

On September 5, 2023, the prosecutor announced updated charges and announced they will seek the death penalty for Erica Lawson. According to the indictment, the abuse Elena suffered lasted from July 3, 2023, until she died on July 30, 2023. The prosecutor upped her manslaughter charge to murder.

Erica Lawson is being held on $1,000,000 cash bond while awaiting court proceedings. There have been no further arrests in the case.


  • April

    I think evidence is being with held in this case to help certain people in the upcoming election. Small town politics at its best. I dont know why the FBI hasnt taken over yet. This small town isnt capable of dealing with this. Hell it takes 6 squad cars to pull people over for speeding

  • Sherry

    Wasn’t there men who abused the baby too? It was only the mom? If there was anyone else why aren’t they being charged too?

  • Debbie

    Yes a woman can sexually abuse the child. I hope the police checked the trash for bloody diapers to see if there’s DNA of any male. A very disturbed and sick woman either way you look at need to prosecute all those involved to the fullest.

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