COLUMBIA (AP) — 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 when he was about a year old, in September 2011.
“She set him on the floor, and she kicked him and told him to go play,” Dickerson said, adding that she knew her friend was stressed. “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 she has told them misleading and false stories about where the boy is.
Earlier Wednesday, 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.
“I picked him up, gave him a hug and a kiss, and I left,” Mitchell said, of the last day he saw his son.
A week later, Mitchell said he tried to see Amir again, but Jennings wouldn’t allow it.
Jennings moved out of the couple’s shared apartment after Amir’s birth in June 2010, Mitchell testified. He said the two remained a couple, and he gave Jennings money from each of his paychecks at a Columbia restaurant — the same as he did to his estranged wife for the care of a daughter.
“I’m a fair person,” Mitchell said.
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 on Tuesday, when they played a lengthy interview in which she told police searching for the boy that she needed a break from the child. In the two-hour conversation, 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.
“We’ll deal with you still having a break,” Sgt. Arthur Thomas says, also telling Jennings she needs to pray to God for help. “You don’t have to feel like you’re being forced to take the child back.”
But 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, referring to 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. In initial interviews, Jennings first said she had no children and 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.