Conover man convicted of second-degree murder of 7-month-old child

Seth Mabry

Tyler Leroy Eugene Linebarger, 26, of Conover, was convicted of second-degree murder and two counts of felony child abuse inflicting serious bodily injury during Catawba County Superior Court on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018.

The Honorable Nathaniel J. Poovey, Superior Court Judge from Catawba County, sentenced Linebarger to serve an active prison term of 30 to 38 years in custody of the North Carolina Division of Adult Corrections following the defendant’s guilty plea for the Jan. 1, 2015, death of 7-month-old Chekeem Jamar Hickman Jr.

“This is simply a tragedy for everyone involved,” Judge Poovey said. “There is nothing I can say that will right this wrong.”

Linebarger was caring for the infant while the child’s mother, Amber Estep, was at work on Dec. 31, 2014. Investigation and medical examinations showed that the defendant punched or struck the child with such force that it severed an artery leading to the liver, lacerated the liver and allowed blood to pool in the abdominal area, ultimately leading to cardiac arrest.

“There was literally no one else who could be responsible,” said Assistanat District Attorney Alison Martin, noting that the child was left in care of the defendant, who was in a faltering relationship with the mother and had a dislike for the child’s father, Chekeem Hickman Sr. “Baby Jamar didn’t deserve this.”

The infant was taken to Catawba Valley Medical Center and later rushed to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte where he died as a result of his injuries in spite of numerous measures to save his life.

Examination of the child indicated that the fatal injury was no more than an hour old when he was seen by emergency physicians and revealed at least 25 acute and healing rib fractures from abuse the State noted to cover a period of five weeks prior to the infant’s death.

“No one should have been experiencing the horror that child went through,” Assistant District Attorney Lance Sigmon said, reiterating the fact that the defendant struck the child with sufficient force to sever the artery and lacerate the liver after beating him for five weeks. “(Linebarger) should never have access to another helpless human being.”

Defense Attorney Daniel Roberts spoke on behalf of his client, saying, “There is no justification for what happened in this case. He’s responsible and taking responsibility for his actions. He will live not only with the court’s actions but his own feelings of guilt. He understands his actions are the ones that injured the child.”

Spencer Cline and Jonathan Spizzo led the investigation for Newton Police Department with assistance from Jennifer Owen of Catawba County Department of Social Services. Alison Martin and Lance Sigmon handled prosecution for the District Attorney’s Office.