COLUMBIA — The South Carolina mother on trial in the case of her missing son told police searching for the boy that she needed a break from parenting, according to testimony Tuesday.
Prosecutors played a lengthy interview in which Zinah Jennings told police she was stressed from parenting, criticism from her mother and being unemployed and needed some time to herself. Sgt. Arthur Thomas is heard repeatedly telling Jennings that he understands her situation and just needs to see the boy to know that he’s OK.
“We’ll deal with you still having a break,” Thomas says, also telling Jennings she needs to pray for help. “You don’t have to feel like you’re being forced to take the child back.”
Jennings still refused to give details about her son, becoming defensive when talking about caring for him and saying she had known the people with whom she left him for a long time.
“It’s very frustrating,” said Jennings, referring to pressure she felt from her mother. “All eyes are on me. … I know why I’m here, and I don’t care what she has to say about it.”
Jennings, 23, is on trial for unlawful conduct toward a child. Her son, Amir, was 18 months old when he was last seen around Thanksgiving. Jennings has said her son is safe but won’t say where he is.
Earlier Tuesday, prosecutors began laying out their case against Jennings. In an opening statement, Assistant Solicitor Dolly Justice Garfield said Amir is the crux of the case.
Defense attorney Hemphill Pride said authorities have no proof his client abandoned the boy.
The interview played Tuesday was from a conversation Jennings had with police several days after a Christmas Eve car wreck in downtown Columbia. She first said she had no children, then said the boy was with relatives and friends in cities from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C. Investigators say they chased down Jennings’ stories but arrested her after several dead ends.
Another officer testified Tuesday that he ran Jennings’ license plate number against a national database and found that both Jennings and her son had been reported missing.
While questioning Jennings at a hospital where she was being treated, Officer Christon Miller said she had glitter on her face and told him she had no children.
Two nurses said Jennings was screaming and moving so much that it was hard to take her vital signs. Both confirmed that Jennings first said she had no children, then said she had one child – a daughter – only after nurses asked about her Caesarean section scar.
Jennings’ mother and other supporters wore pale yellow lapel ribbons in court. As she has for several months, Jennings’ mother carried a bag emblazoned with the image of her missing grandson.
Jennings’ trial is expected to last several weeks, and she faces up to 10 years if convicted. A jury of eight woman and four men is considering the case.
Jennings, who is due to give birth to a second child in several weeks, is also facing an assault charge stemming from an allegation that she shoved a jailhouse nurse over medication earlier this year. Jennings has been ordered by a judge to take Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug, while in jail. After the fight, she served 90 days in solitary confinement.