Two face murder charges after child they abused 20 years ago dies

Published: Apr. 10, 2018 at 11:27 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 10, 2018 at 11:07 PM EDT
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BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Two people have been charged with murder after the child they were convicted of abusing about 20 years ago died last month.

David Raefore Tripp Jr., 45, and Robyn Lynn Noffsinger, 41, appeared in a Brunswick County courtroom Tuesday and were indicted for first-degree murder.

According to the District Attorney's Office, the murder charge stems from a child abuse case out of Longwood dating back to 1997.

Officials said the child Tripp and Noffsinger were convicted of abusing in that case, then-15-month-old David Cody Rhinehart, died March 6 this year. Noffsinger is Rhinehart's biological mother and was dating Tripp at the time of the abuse.

Rhinehart, who had his last name changed to Stuart, was 21 when he died. District Attorney Jon David said the beatings took the young boy's ability to walk and talk. He spent the rest of his life confined in a wheelchair.

A medical examiner determined Rhinehart died from injuries from the 1997 incident.

"He was literally, at the time of his death, a man for sure but still an infant from the standpoint that he needed round the clock care by some very loving caregivers," David said. "That medical treatment he received, that care he received, literally cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars."

Trip and Noffsinger were each given $1 million bonds.

According to documents from Noffsinger's appeal, a volunteer ambulance driver transported the child to the Columbia Brunswick Hospital on April 12, 1997. A doctor at the hospital said the child was not breathing and had a head fracture, abnormal pupil response, facial bruising, deformities on an arm and a leg, a burned area in the diaper region and was having seizures.

The volunteer ambulance driver said she saw Noffsinger and Tripp "talking and laughing" outside the emergency room.

The next day, a pediatrician at Duke treated the child and testified the child was in critical condition, comatose and had been placed on life support. The pediatrician claimed the couple told her the injuries happened when Tripp gave the child two baths. The pediatrician claims the couple also told her the child fell from a chair onto a vacuum cleaner and Tripp accidentally hit the child in the eye with his elbow.

The pediatrician diagnosed the child with battered child syndrome. A child receives the diagnosis when it is believed the child's caretakers intentionally inflicted the injuries.

Tripp and Noffsinger were both convicted of child abuse in that case and sentenced to prison.

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