Condition of Murrieta boy at center of abuse case is improving, police spokesman says

Benjamin Whitten, a U.S. Navy sailor, and his girlfriend, Jeryn Johnson, are accused of torturing Whitten’s 5-year-old son. Courtesy photo

A 5-year-old Murrieta boy who authorities believe was tortured by his father and his father’s girlfriend to the point that he was comatose was starting to show some signs of improvement after months of medical care, a Murrieta Police Department spokesman confirmed.

“His condition has improved,” Lt. Ron Driscoll said. “He’s no longer in the grave condition that he once was in and he’s making some definite medical improvements.”

Driscoll couldn’t comment beyond that. He said the case had been turned over completely to the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office a couple weeks ago, limiting what police officials can divulge at this point.

The boy’s father, Benjamin Matthew Whitten, and the father’s girlfriend, Jeryn Christine Johnson, are each charged with one felony count of torture and another felony count of child endangerment. Both are expected to make a court appearance on Dec. 1.

A search warrant declaration authored by Detective John Therein of the department discusses some of the conditions that police discovered after receiving a 911 call from Johnson on the morning of Aug. 15. Johnson had called to say that the boy was not breathing and that she had moved him from his bed to the couch.

An arriving police officer could immediately see that the boy looked malnourished, according to the document.

When police went to the boy’s bedroom it appeared that he had been sleeping on a piece of wood instead of a mattress, there was a lock on the outside of the door to keep him inside and there were cords near the bed that may have been used to tie him down, the declaration states.

One doctor at Inland Valley Medical Center believed the boy may have been suffering from starvation. Another doctor at Rady’s Children Hospital in San Diego determined he had injuries to his head, his abdomen, his spinal cord and abrasions to his neck.

Neither Johnson nor Whitten have any misdemeanor or felony convictions in the county.

Whitten worked as a nuclear machinist’s mate at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment at Naval Base Point Loma, military records show.

 

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