Man pleads guilty to child abuse

Published 10:40 pm Friday, May 20, 2011

A Suffolk man interrupted his jury trial in its third day this week by pleading guilty to child abuse and neglect and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Jardain Copeland, 27, and the child’s mother, Denise Baton, 24, are due to be sentenced in August and June, respectively. The two starved their infant son to the point where he weighed half of what he should have, despite the parents receiving WIC and food stamps, prosecutor Marie Walls said Friday.

Copeland’s jury trial began Monday, and everything went as expected, Walls said. However, on Tuesday, Copeland had a panic attack in court, so the trial recessed for the day.

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Upon his return Wednesday morning, he decided to plead guilty, Walls said.

The case began in December 2009, when the parents took the 8-month-old boy to the doctor to be treated for a cold. The pediatrician immediately noticed the baby was malnourished.

The infant was taken to Sentara Obici Hospital and then transferred to Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Walls said.

Doctors found that the boy had very little body fat and was developmentally delayed. He also had “contractures,” which can occur when babies are rarely held or are left in a car seat for an extended period of time, Walls said. The baby’s arms and legs were contracted so close to his body that he held a bottle given at the hospital with his feet.

When police searched the house, they found no baby food or formula and very little food period, even though the child had an older sister. There were boxes in the cabinet, but they were all empty, Walls said, even though the parents were receiving WIC, food stamps, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and SSI benefits.

The boy, now 26 months old, is in foster care and “doing remarkably well,” Walls said.

“You wouldn’t know if you looked at him,” she said. “He looks totally healthy.”

The boy is in therapy to help him catch up on his development, she added.

Baton, the child’s mother, pleaded guilty to child abuse or neglect and child cruelty.