UPDATE: Father Pleads Guilty After 2016 Death of 13-Year-Old Son

May 23, 2024 at 12:29 pm by WGNS News

MURFREESBORO, TN - Nearly a full decade later, the criminal case against Christopher Hart, the father of 13-year-old Johnathon Lee Hart who died in 2016, has come to a close. According to Rutherford County Circuit Court details, the case concluded with a guilty plea followed by sentencing.

Earlier this month, Christopher Hart pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse, neglect, and endangerment. The charges stemmed from an emergency call to dispatch where Murfreesboro Fire and Rescue were summoned to a report of someone being found unresponsive. When fire crews arrived, they quickly learned that the unresponsive person was a child, later confirmed to be Johnathon Lee Hart. The 13-year-old lived at 1730 Haynes Drive with his three younger siblings, his father, and his stepmother.


A matter of days after the young teen was transported to Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital and later to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital in Nashville, he passed away. Johnathon died on May 26, 2016, after being flown to the Nashville hospital by LifeFlight helicopter (Johnathon pictured below).

For Murfreesboro Police, the investigation into the child's death began in 2016 and seemed to have ended almost as quickly as it began. Evidently, it first appeared as if Johnathon died of sepsis from an untreated urinary tract infection. But the old adage, "Nothing is what it seems to be,” couldn't be more true as Murfreesboro investigators knew something wasn't quite right. 

In the years that followed, former MPD Detectives Tommy Roberts and Tannas Knox pushed forward with new evidence that admitted to the case in 2018, which reopened the investigation.

A sealed indictment was handed down by the courts in 2018, charging Johnathon’s stepmother, Emily Hart, with aggravated child abuse. The boys father, Christopher Hart, was charged with child abuse / neglect / endangerment.

Six years after the child's death, Emily Hart plead guilty to the lesser charge of attempted aggravated child abuse and received a six-year prison sentence.

As Emily’s case moved through the judicial system, legal proceedings for her husband’s case faced numerous delays. But those delays ended this month with Christopher Hart being sentenced before Rutherford County Circuit Court Judge Barry Tidwell. On May 1, 2024, eight years after his son’s death, Hart received two consecutive sentences of 11 months and 29 days each. Under the ruling, he will serve approximately one year in jail followed by one year on probation.

Emily Hart, currently incarcerated at the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville, TN, previously had her parole hearing declined. Her sentence will officially end on June 11, 2027, just four months before what would have been Johnathon's 25th birthday. Upon her release, she will be close to 50 years old.

Christopher Hart, upon completing his sentence, will be about 45-years-old.

The conviction and sentencing of both parents coincided with the month of Johnathon's death, marking a significant closure for a tragic event that left a lasting impact on the community and the deceased child’s extended family.

Johnathon Lee Hart died five months before his 14th birthday, and the resolution of this case brings a somber end to the prolonged legal battle that is now over.

Sources: MPD Arrest and Incident Reports #16-10661, Rutherford County Court records

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