40-year terms for abusing son Brutal punishment of boy 'disgusted' judge
By Joe Johnson - firstname.lastname@example.org
Published Friday, May 21, 2010
WATKINSVILLE - An Oconee County jury convicted a woman and her common-law husband Thursday on charges they locked her 12-year-old son naked in a closet, shot him with a pellet gun, pepper-sprayed him and deprived him of food.
http://images.morris.com/images/athens/mdControlled/cms/2010/05/21/642050109.jpg Richard Hamm Norris Lazarus Walker
Norris Lazarus Walker
Catch up on stories about the trial you may have missed:
May 20, 2010 Boy to go into local foster care
May 19, 2010 Parents: Boy was trouble
May 18, 2010 More details of cruelty emerge in abuse trial
May 15, 2010 Boy takes stand, tells of horrific abuse
May 14, 2010 Photos seen at trial show boy's injuries
May 13, 2010 For boy, closet 'his life'
May 12, 2010 Child torture trial set to begin in afternoon
But jurors acquitted Damita Devonna Peak and Norris Lazarus Walker on 20 counts of aggravated assault, finding them guilty on a lesser charge of battery.
Superior Court Judge Steve Jones sentenced both to 40 years in prison, without probation.
The verdict capped a 10-day trial in which jurors heard from the boy and his younger brother, school officials, doctors, police officers and the defendants themselves.
Peak, 36, and Walker, 39, told jurors they punished the boy because he constantly got in trouble and didn't respond to traditional forms of punishment. They used extreme measures because they didn't want him to die from drugs or end up in prison, like other relatives had in Florida, they testified.
Neither expressed remorse for what they did to Peak's son, now 13 and living with his younger brother with an area foster family.
Jones said the trial was the worst child abuse case he's presided over, except for one in which a man and woman were convicted of murder for beating a 10-year-old boy to death a dozen years ago.
"You don't have to have a law degree; you don't have to have a medical degree; you don't have to have a high school diploma to know that was wrong," Jones told the defendants.
"It just disgusted me," he said.
Peak's son might have ended up dead, Jones said, if officials at Rocky Branch Elementary School hadn't noticed signs of abuse and called in child-protective services to remove Jimmy and his brother from the home.
Neither Jimmy - not the victim's real name - nor his brother addressed the judge before he chose a sentence, as victims often do.
The younger boy was too scared to be in the same room as his mother, a victim advocate told Jones, while Jimmy wrote a statement, which the advocate read.
He described bad dreams and other lingering effects of the abuse, yet spoke fondly of Walker and his mother.
"I understand why they did it and I want to say I love them so much and I miss them," Jimmy wrote.
Peak had testified that she began punishing her son when he was 9 or 10, when they lived in Miami, by beating him or making him stay in his room.
She and Walker moved with Jimmy and his younger brother to Georgia in 2006, ending up in Athens two years later when Peak landed a job as a jailer in Walton County, where she was issued handcuffs and pepper spray.
While living at an extended-stay motel off South Milledge Avenue, Peak and Walker made Jimmy stand for hours in the corner with his arms held out, and Walker shot him with a pellet gun when he lowered his arms. They also tied his hands, or handcuffed them, to a clothes bar in the closet so he wouldn't drop his arms.
The family moved at the end of November 2008 to the Wellington Park duplex complex in Bogart, where Jimmy slept on a closet's bare floor with just a Batman blanket each night until his parents were arrested.
Peak and Walker fed him only water and bread, sometimes with peanut butter, while locked up.
In the Bogart home, he urinated in the closet because no one answered his pleas to be let out, and Peak punished him by pepper-spraying Jimmy in the face.
The Oconee County jury convicted Peak and Walker each on 10 counts of false imprisonment, eight counts of second-degree child cruelty, and two counts of battery.
Jurors found Peak guilty of three counts of first-degree child cruelty and convicted Walker on two counts.
They also acquitted them each of 18 counts of aggravated assault, and instead found them guilty of two counts of battery. They also found Peak guilty of simple battery.
Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry said the verdict was just.
"It spoke to the horror that was inflicted on (Jimmy)," he said.
Peak and Walker still face 17 felony counts in Clarke County Superior Court.
Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, May 21, 2010