Couple guilty of child endangerment

Published 12:15 am Sunday, July 20, 2014

After a two-day child abuse trial, a jury determined a Lawrence County couple’s method of discipline went too far in the case of a 6-year-old boy.

Jessica and Travis Neal, of Willow Wood, were each found guilty of third-degree child endangerment of the woman’s son after about two hours of deliberation Friday.

The jury determined the use of a belt that left dark bruising on about two-thirds of the boy’s back and on his buttocks was excessive.

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The couple was also charged with second-degree felonious assault, but the jury instead chose to convict them of a lesser-included charge of misdemeanor assault.

Common Pleas Judge D. Scott Bowling ordered a pre-sentence investigation and continued the couple’s bond until sentencing on Wednesday.

During the second day of the trial, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Smith called his final witness, Dr. Kim Oxley, the boy’s pediatrician. She testified she examined the boy on Dec. 11, the day his bruises were brought to the attention of his school nurse.

She said the bruising was consistent with strikes from a belt and was the “worst” she had ever seen.

Delaware-based attorneys for the Neals, Brian Jones and Elizabeth Osorio, called witnesses that included the boy’s daycare provider, various character witnesses and the Neals themselves.

The defense centered its case around allegations the boy’s father had coerced him into purposefully disobeying Jessica and Travis after Jessica’s divorce from the man and subsequent custody dispute.

On the night of Dec. 9, the couple both admitted on the stand that they spanked and used a belt on the boy because he was being defiant and uncooperative while doing reading homework.

“Did you mean to hurt (the boy)?” Osorio asked Travis.

“No. I just meant to discipline him,” he said. “I wanted him to do good in school.”

“We can agree this went way past where it should have been, can’t we? Smith asked Travis during a cross examination, to which he responded, “Yes.”

“Blake brought this on himself, is that what you’re telling me? Smith asked.

“As far as discipline, yes,” Travis said.

Jessica also testified that the punishment was not done in anger.

“I was surprised it left marks,” she said. “Because he wasn’t hit that hard.”

She also said she didn’t feel the use of a belt to discipline her child was wrong.