Valley News -

By Alex Groves
Associate Editor 

Couple in Murrieta abuse case pleads guilty, is immediately sentenced


Last updated 6/15/2018 at 12:57pm

A serviceman and his girlfriend who abused the man's young son until the boy was comatose both pleaded guilty Friday, June 15, and were immediately sentenced, the District Attorney's office announced.

The boy's father, Benjamin Matthew Whitten, 34, pleaded guilty to eight counts, including child abuse and assault likely to cause great bodily injury or death and was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Whitten's live-in-girlfriend, Jeryn Christine Johnson, 26, pleaded guilty to three counts including child abuse and torture that caused the victim to become comatose. She was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

The couple both entered pleas during their preliminary hearing at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley.

Before the couple were sentenced, the boy's grandmother, Leslie Whitten, addressed the court and said the boy has a long road to recovery after the abuse he experienced.

She said the "once bubbly, active little boy," is confined to a wheelchair and is having to relearn such tasks as walking, talking and eating.

He was "a helpless victim against crimes committed on his little self with no way to defend himself," she said.

Murrieta police officers were called to Whitten and Johnson's Murrieta home in the 2400 block of Verdun Lane for a medical distress call and found the young boy unconscious with severe injuries.

According to court documents, officers who arrived to the scene noticed how skinny and malnourished the boy appeared.

A doctor who later examined him at Inland Valley Medical Center said he was malnourished in a way that was consistent with starvation.

On the day authorities were summoned for the medical distress call, an officer went to the boy's bedroom and found that the door to the boy's bedroom could be locked from the outside.

The boy was sleeping on a piece of wood, not a mattress, and there were ropes nearby that were possibly being used to tie the boy down, according to the document.

The boy was airlifted to a San Diego County hospital where he was in a coma for several months.

Though the boy is no longer hospitalized and in better condition, he is undergoing physical therapy, according to a Riverside County District Attorney's Office news release.


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