A Murrieta couple have been charged with child abuse and torture after a 5-year-old boy was hospitalized with severe injuries and is now comatose, authorities announced Thursday.
Benjamin Matthew Whitten, the boy’s biological father and a U.S. Navy sailor, and his live-in girlfriend Jeryn Christine Johnson appeared for arraignment in Murrieta on Thursday afternoon, but the hearing was postponed, according to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
The couple were arrested Tuesday, about 10 hours after Johnson called 911 to report the child being in medical distress, police said Wednesday.
Police officers found the unidentified boy frail and extremely malnourished, a Murrieta Police Department lieutenant said. He had “severe injuries requiring immediate medical” care, the DA’s office said.
A neighbor said she saw paramedics doing chest compressions on the child.
The boy was taken by ambulance to an area hospital and then airlifted to another hospital in San Diego County. He remains in grave condition Thursday, according to the DA’s office.
Dozens came out for a vigil outside the family’s home early Wednesday’s evening. Neighbors said they didn’t see the family outside very often, though the father was sometimes heard yelling at the boy.
Whitten, 33, and Johnson, 25, were charged Thursday with one count of torture, and one count of child abuse with an allegation of causing the child to become comatose.
At Thursday afternoon’s appearance, their arraignment was posted until Aug. 24 and the judge kept their bail at $1 million each. A public defender was appointed for Whitten and a defense attorney will be appointed to represent Johnson because the public defender’s office said it cannot represent two defendants in the same case, a DA’s spokesman said.
After getting a warrant, investigators searched the couple’s home in the 24000 block of Verdun Lane, where police said they found “extremely unsanitary” conditions. Eleven dogs, four cats and two fish were taken from the home.
Administration code enforcement violations have occurred at the home, but no emergency calls were made after the family moved there in April 2016, police said.
Whitten serves as a machinist’s mate nuclear first class stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment in San Diego, the U.S. Navy confirmed. Whitten enlisted in 2009, with his home state listed as Texas, and he was stationed on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier from 2011 to February 2016, naval records show.