A Murrieta woman received two consecutive life sentences after she and her boyfriend pleaded guilty to a slew of charges related to the monthslong abuse and torture of his 5-year-old son, Riverside County officials said Friday.
Jeryn Christine Johnson, 26, entered guilty pleas to three counts, including torture and child abuse causing the victim to become comatose, according to a news release from the District Attorney’s Office.
Johnson, who was the live-in girlfriend of the boy’s father when the severe abuse took place, received two consecutive life sentences from the judge.
The boy’s biological father, 34-year-old Benjamin Matthew Whitten, was sentenced to 17 years in prison. He pleaded guilty to eight charges, including child abuse and assault likely to cause great bodily injury or death, the release stated.
Whitten and Johnson were arrested in August 2017 after police responded to a child in medical distress call and found the boy unconscious in a home in the 24000 block of Verdun Lane in Murrieta, according to authorities.
He appeared frail and was extremely malnourished, police said at the time. The gravely injured child remained in a coma for several months at a San Diego County hospital as a result of the abuse.
Addressing the court before the couple’s sentencing, the boy’s paternal grandmother described him as “a helpless victim against crimes committed on his little self with no way to defend himself,” she said.
The child, who was not identified, has been undergoing physical therapy but is no longer hospitalized.
He was “once bubbly, active little boy,” but is “now confined to a wheelchair,” according to Leslie Whitten. Her grandson is “learning to walk, talk and eat again,” and the family recognized he still has a long road to recovery ahead of him, she said.
While hospitalized, the victim was found to have injuries to his head, spinal cord, neck and stomach, and he also appeared to have been starved, according to the Press-Enterprise.
When responding officers searched the couple’s home, they discovered the victim’s room had a lock on the outside, a search warrant affidavit obtained by the newspaper revealed. The boy apparently slept on a plank of wood, and a blue rope in the bedroom may have been used to tie him down, the document stated.
Whitten told police his son soiled the mattress, so he placed it in the garage, the Press-Enterprise reported. He also told investigators that the boy’s injuries were caused when Johnson picked him up out of the pool and dropped him on concrete, and when the youngster hit his head on his bed’s headboard, according to the affidavit.
At the time of his arrest, Whitten was enlisted in the U.S. Navy; he was stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment in San Diego, where he was a machinist’s mate nuclear first class.