COLUMBIA — It’s up to jurors to decide if a South Carolina mother has broken the law by not telling police details about where her missing son is.
Jurors are to begin deliberating Friday in the case of Zinah Jennings, who has been on trial for the past two weeks on a charge of unlawful conduct toward a child. If she’s convicted, Jennings, 23, could face up to 10 years in prison. The jury’s decision must be unanimous.
Jennings’ son, Amir, was 18 months old when he was recorded on a bank’s security video in late November, the last time his image was documented. A Lexington shop owner testified she saw the boy with his mother nearly a month later, but police discredited that account.
Prosecutors put up dozens of witnesses, some of whom testified the young mother was overwhelmed and stressed by the responsibilities of parenting. One friend said Jennings had told her that she had pondered selling or giving away the boy to carve out more time for herself. Another witness said she saw Jennings tightly squeeze the boy’s hand when he wouldn’t say “mama.”
In closing arguments, prosecutors reviewed some of that testimony, accounts they said bolstered the argument that Jennings acted unlawfully toward her child.
“She didn’t want to be a mother anymore,” Assistant Solicitor Meghan Walker said. “She was over it. … Her intention was to get rid of her burden.”
Assistant Solicitor Luck Campbell painted Jennings as a woman who wanted a baby but whose dreams for a happy life with her son and the boy’s father shattered.
“She was losing control,” Campbell said. “But the only thing she could control was Amir.”
Jennings opted not to take the stand.
Jennings’ attorney Hemphill Pride called among his final witnesses a consignment store owner, who testified that she saw the missing boy a few days before Christmas, weeks after he was reported missing. Police disputed that visit, which was not recorded on surveillance video.
Pride said the woman had no reason to lie about the sighting.
“What she did is what any decent person would have done, with the kind of information she had,” Pride said of the woman’s decision to report the sighting to police.
Of his own client, Pride said she certainly told false stories to police about the boy’s whereabouts – but that activity wasn’t criminal.
“Zinah told so many lies. I plead her guilty to being a liar,” Pride said. “But fortunately, she’s not charged with being a liar.”
Authorities have said that Amir was last seen Nov. 29, 2011, when he and his mother were captured on security video at a Columbia bank.