COLUMBIA — Overwhelmed by parenting, the mother of a missing South Carolina toddler considered giving away or selling her son to alleviate the stress, a high school friend testified Wednesday.
“She actually said, ‘Sometimes, I think about giving him away,’” said Christian Dickerson, who called frequently to check up on her friend, Zinah Jennings. “She told me that she thought about selling him.”
Jennings, 23, had planned her pregnancy, said Dickerson, who added that she saw Jennings abuse the boy in September 2011.
“She set him on the floor, and she kicked him and told him to go play,” Dickerson said. “She said it’s nothing like she expected, that sometimes she thinks about throwing him out of the car on the highway.”
Jennings is on trial on a charge of illegal conduct toward a child. Her son, Amir, was 18 months when he was last seen around Thanksgiving in Columbia. Police say Jennings has told them misleading, false stories about where the boy is.
The boy’s father testified that he wanted to play more of a role in his son’s life but that Jennings wouldn’t let him. After their two-year relationship ended, Roderick Mitchell testified that he was surprised when Jennings allowed him to spend a day with Amir in November 2011.
A week later, Mitchell said he tried to see Amir again, but Jennings wouldn’t allow it.
“I picked him up, gave him a hug and a kiss, and I left,” Mitchell said of November 29, 2011, the last day he saw his son.
Several of Mitchell’s relatives and some of Jennings’ friends testified Wednesday that they offered to watch Amir for Jennings but she never took them up on those offers.
“I said, you can bring him over here anytime, and she refused,” said Charisma Mitchell, Roderick Mitchell’s sister.
Prosecutors began portraying Jennings’ apparent stress Tuesday, when they played a two-hour interview in which she told police searching for the boy that she needed a break from the child. Jennings said she was stressed from parenting, criticism from her mother and being unemployed and needed some time to herself. An officer is heard repeatedly telling Jennings he understands her situation and just needs to see the boy to know that he’s OK.
Jennings still refuses to give police 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,” says Jennings of the pressure she felt from her mother to succeed and be a good parent. “All eyes are on me.”
The interview was from a conversation Jennings had with police several days after a Christmas Eve car wreck in downtown Columbia. Jennings initially told police she had no children, then said the boy was with relatives and friends in cities from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C. Investigators chased down Jennings’ stories but arrested her after several dead ends.
Prosecutors also played a bank’s surveillance video from November 29, 2011 – the last day Amir was reported seen – in which the boy runs around the bank and tries to go through the front doors while his mother talks with a teller.
In other testimony, a man who met Jennings a day later in Augusta said he saw no child with Jennings and no car seat in her car. He said she introduced herself as a 19-year-old college student living in the area. Jennings’ trips to Augusta were backed up by cellphone records analyzed by an FBI agent.
Jennings’ trial is expected to last several weeks, and she faces up to 10 years if convicted.