Child abuse trial gets under way

Published 9:29 am Friday, July 18, 2014

What is over the line when it comes to the corporal punishment of a child?

That will be up to a Lawrence County jury to decide in the case of Jessica and Travis Neal.

The Willow Wood couple, 26 and 24, respectively, were each charged with third-degree counts of child endangerment and second-degree counts of felonious assault after allegations surfaced the two abused Jessica’s 6-year-old child.

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The two were arrested at their home after a school nurse notified children’s services the boy was complaining of back pain and had bruising on his back.

That nurse, Sarah Cade, testified on the first day of the trial Thursday.

“I would say it was very severe,” Cade said of the bruising.

The jury saw photos taken by a children’s services investigator, as well as by Lawrence County Sheriff’s Detective Jason Newman. They depicted a large portion of the boy’s back covered in red and purple bruises.

Cade also testified she perceived what appeared to be belt marks.

Newman also testified and audio recordings of initial interviews with the Neals were played.

In the recording, Jessica told Newman her son was not cooperating and refusing to do his reading homework.

“He wasn’t listening to anything anyone had to say so he got spanked,” she said.

Newman showed her the photos he had taken and said, “That’s not a spanking. That’s too much. That’s too far.”

Jessica went on to say she has used Travis’ belt on her son when the child still refused to do his homework. Still uncooperative, she said she asked Travis to help the boy with his work. The boy still was uncooperative and Jessica said Travis used the belt on her son.

“He didn’t get hit that hard. I don’t know why he bruised so badly,” Jessica said.

During Travis’ interview, he also said the boy wasn’t doing his homework and that the two spanked and used a belt on him.

Travis said he and his wife realized later that evening the punishment caused bruising.

“I said, never again, you can’t do that,” Travis said. “It might already be too late. It was a one-time ordeal. It can’t ever happen again. We know that. We feel bad about it. It was something we didn’t realize it was hurting him as bad as it did.”

The case will continue today with more testimony and is being presided over by Judge D. Scott Bowling. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Smith is representing the state.

The Neals, who are being tried together, are represented by Delaware-based attorneys Brian Jones and Elizabeth Osorio.