ATLANTA — A man who admitted to having slapped a crying toddler on an Atlanta-bound flight is set to appear in court Monday for sentencing.
Joe Rickey Hundley pleaded guilty in October after reaching a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Hundley used a racial slur to refer to the 19-month-old boy and then hit him under the right eye as the flight from Minneapolis began its descent to the Atlanta airport, authorities have said.
The misdemeanor simple assault charge carries a possible prison sentence of up to a year and a fine of up to $100,000. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of six months in prison, but Hundley reserved his right to argue for a lower sentence. Prosecutors are not recommending any specific fine. Hundley has agreed to pay any restitution ordered by the court.
The judge is not required to follow the recommendations in the plea agreement when he sentences Hundley.
Hundley, who lived in Idaho at the time, was on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta on Feb. 8 and was seated in a window seat next to Jessica Bennett, who was sitting in the aisle seat and had her 19-month-old son on her lap, according to court filings.
As the plane descended into Atlanta, the child started crying. Hundley leaned over to Bennett and “told her to shut that (N-word) baby up,” according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent who investigated the incident.
Hundley then slapped the child in the face, leaving a scratch below his right eye, the FBI agent’s statement says.
Hundley’s only son was in a coma in Atlanta after an insulin overdose that was the result of a suspected suicide attempt, his lawyer Marcia Shein told reporters after he pleaded guilty. He spent the day before talking to his ex-wife and doctors after his son was declared brain dead and booked a last-minute flight to Atlanta so he and his ex-wife could take their son off life support, Shein said.
Hundley simply snapped from the pressure, Shein said.
Hundley was president of an aerospace company in Hayden, Idaho, but lost his job following enormous media coverage of the in-flight incident, his defense lawyers said in a court filing. Hundley has since moved to Leland, N.C., according to a court filing. He has been able to find only sporadic, part-time work since then, he told the judge.
Bennett, who lives in Minneapolis, told KARE-TV, a television station there, that her son was traumatized and had become “apprehensive to strangers” since the flight. Hundley became increasingly obnoxious and appeared intoxicated during the flight and complained that her son was too big to sit on her lap, she said.