COLUMBIA — The mother of a South Carolina toddler missing since Thanksgiving is pregnant and mentally ill and should be released from jail because she needs medical care, the woman’s attorney argued in court papers filed this week.
Hemphill Pride II says Zinah Jennings has been ordered to have treatment for her mental illness for a year and has been told to take Risperdal, which is used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia. He also said she needs prenatal care.
On Thursday afternoon, dozens of federal, state and local police agents and cadaver dog teams for more than four hours searched a county in the central part of the state for the boy who was 18 months old when he disappeared. Columbia police spokeswoman Jennifer Timmons said officers scoured an 8-mile radius near a small rural church in Richland County but found no evidence of the boy.
Jennings, 22, has been in jail since late December, when Columbia police say they arrested her for lying about the whereabouts of her son, Amir.
Her mother had reported Jennings missing several weeks earlier, telling police she thought her daughter and grandson were in Atlanta but that she was receiving evasive answers when she asked about Amir.
Speaking to police after a Christmas Eve car wreck, Jennings first said she didn’t have children and then said her son was with relatives and friends in cities from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C.
Investigators say they chased down Jennings’ stories but met with several dead ends before arresting her. Authorities said they hope a tip line and $10,000 reward will yield information, and state police are analyzing stains on blankets and clothes removed from Jennings’ car to see if they are blood.
Her half-sister who reported her missing told police that she had left her home and suffered from “schizophrenic tendencies” that had not been diagnosed.
Jocelyn Jennings Nelson, who has said her headstrong daughter frequently traveled to visit relatives and friends in the Carolinas and Georgia, said she reported Jennings and the boy missing last month after becoming concerned during their visit to Atlanta.
Jennings was arrested on prostitution and drug charges in Georgia shortly before her son disappeared, accused of offering sex to an undercover officer. Jennings had been staying with a half-sister in the Atlanta area for three weeks before her Nov. 9 arrest.
On the day Zinah Jennings was arrested, her half-sister reported her missing, telling police that she had left her home and suffered from “schizophrenic tendencies” that had not been diagnosed. Nelson has said her headstrong daughter had been depressed since the birth of her son, struggling both in classes at a community college and in her search for a job that allowed the flexibility needed to go to school and care for her son.
In his motion filed Tuesday, Pride cites a doctor who has examined Jennings and says she “lacks sufficient insight or capacity to make responsible decisions” about her treatment and needed to be committed to the hospital.
Police would not say what information led to their search Thursday. Jennings’ attorney said his client was no longer speaking to police.
“She’s incapacitated at this time, so she’s not in a position to cooperate,” Pride said. “The medicine that she’s on right now, she’s quite frankly, zonked.”
Nelson told The Associated Press she didn’t know about the search until a conversation with a reporter.
“I’m not surprised that they didn’t find anything,” Nelson told AP. “I had no idea.”
Nelson said she knew about her daughter’s pregnancy and was not surprised that she had been prescribed psychiatric medication.
“She’s very quiet, solemn, and basically that’s it,” Nelson said, of a recent visit to her daughter. “It’s very hard to describe.”
In a separate motion, Pride asks a judge to allow his client to wear street clothes during hearings because of intense media attention on her case. In a previous appearance, Jennings wore an orange jail jumpsuit and handcuffs.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Monday.