COMPTON, Calif. – Three women pleaded not guilty Wednesday to child abuse and other charges involving a 5-year-old boy who was burned, starved and beaten.
A Superior Court commissioner received the pleas in an abuse case against the boy's mother, 24-year-old Starkeisha Brown; her live-in girlfriend Krystal Matthews, 21, and LaTanya Jones, 26, identified by authorities as a baby sitter.
The boy was hospitalized June 9 after being found ill and in the care of a homeless stranger outside a Los Angeles County child services office in Compton.
Prosecutors claim the women beat Brown's son, starved him, burned his genitals with cigarettes and forced him to place his hands on a hot stove.
The three women are charged with child abuse, dissuading a witness, corporal injury to a child and conspiracy. Brown and Matthews are also charged with torture and face 25 years to life in prison if convicted.
Erma Anderson, Jones' mother, said outside court that she saw bruises and "whip cuts" on the boy when he visited her home. He also seemed dehydrated.
"He loved to drink water," she said. "I thought there was something wrong the way he did drink water. I told Krystal's auntie so maybe they could get help. He's a sweet kid."
Anderson disputed that her daughter was the boy's baby sitter. She said Jones was a friend to Brown and Matthews and gave them money and a place to stay when they had nowhere to live.
The arraignment came a day after the county Board of Supervisors voted to form some type of case clearinghouse so government agencies can share files on individuals.
Supervisor Gloria Molina said the boy's abuse likely could have been detected if welfare, probation and child services had shared information on the mother, a former gang member who had served two prison terms. In 2005 the Department of Children and Family Services investigated a report of abuse on the boy, but it was deemed "inconclusive."
She noted that the major snag against such a system will be confidentiality rules. "There's all kinds of regulations that prohibit us from sharing this information," Molina said.
The owner of an apartment inhabited by Brown, Matthews and the child earlier this year called the police four or five times when she heard the boy crying in the upstairs apartment, the owner's son, Francisco Lugo, told The Associated Press.
"The cops came and talked to the ladies but they didn't ever pay attention to the situation," he said. "The little kid used to cry. He used to be left alone a lot."