Grandma of missing SC boy expressed worry in calls
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The grandmother of a missing South Carolina toddler expressed worry and confusion about the boy’s whereabouts during jailhouse phone calls with her daughter, saying she believed police thought the boy was dead but had faith in her daughter’s innocence, according to recordings played in court Wednesday.
“They’re looking in woods,” Jocelyn Jennings Nelson told her daughter. “They’re looking for him to be dead. ... I don’t want to believe that you would take your son’s life.”
Nelson’s daughter, Zinah Jennings, is on trial this week on a charge of unlawful conduct toward a child. Jennings’ son, Amir, was 18 months old when he was last seen around Thanksgiving, and his mother has refused to tell police where he is.
Prosecutors called 40 witnesses and rested their case Wednesday. Defense attorney Hemphill Pride said he expected to begin calling witnesses after a lunch break.
During a lengthy interview with police, Jennings told investigators that she left the boy somewhere safe but would not elaborate. In the phone calls, Nelson pleads with her daughter to come clean with police and then she can be released from jail.
“Where is Amir?” Nelson asked. “You don’t’ have to be in there if you would just say where your son is.”
“I’ve told you where he is,” Jennings said.
“So are you saying you can’t do that?” Nelson said.
“They have to do their job,” Jennings said of police.
The women also discuss Jennings’ new baby, a girl that was born last week.
“You’re asking me to take a new baby after you’ve taken the one I love away from me, one that’s already here, one that I have already grown to love,” Nelson said.
Nelson goes on to tell her daughter that posters with Amir’s photo have been posted throughout the city, but Jennings becomes frustrated when her mother describes the publicity the case has garnered.
“Now everybody knows that I had a baby,” Jennings said in one of her only references to her son during the calls.
Nelson also told her daughter that she was welcome to move back into her home when she is released from jail but describes the worry and stress that accompanied the missing persons reports she filed about her daughter and grandson.
“My concern right now is Amir and you,” Nelson says. “I can’t stop thinking about my grandson. That’s who I have come to know and to love. ... I don’t understand what’s going on.”
On Tuesday, a police officer read from a transcript of Jennings’ two-hour interrogation by police.
“Prove to me your child is alive,” police Sgt. Arthur Thomas says.
“I can’t,” Jennings replied, according to the transcript.
Prosecutors called several witnesses who testified that they thought Jennings was overwhelmed by the stress of parenting. Last week, a friend testified that she had seen Jennings kick her son. Another witness said she saw Jennings squeeze the boy’s hand when he wouldn’t say “mama.”
One high school friend said that the young mother told her she often pondered selling or giving away her son to alleviate the stress, or even throwing him out a window. The boy’s father also testified that he wanted to play more of a role in his son’s life but Jennings wouldn’t let him.