COLUMBIA, S.C. – A South Carolina mother was convicted Friday of breaking the law by refusing to tell authorities where her missing toddler son has gone and was sentenced to the maximum of 10 years in prison.
Zinah Jennings, 23, showed no emotion as the verdict of guilty of unlawful conduct was read in court. The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours before issuing its decision.
Jennings' son, Amir, was 18 months old when he was last seen in November. He and his mother were taped on security video at a Columbia bank. Police say Jennings repeatedly lied to them about where the boy is, telling false tales that led them to search places from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C.
Jennings, who did not testify in her defense, has said she left the boy somewhere safe but wouldn't give details when questioned by police. Prosecutors played a lengthy police interview in which Jennings told detectives she couldn't prove that the boy was alive.
Some of the dozens of prosecution witnesses testified during Jennings' two-week trial that the mother -- who gave birth to a girl last week -- said she was stressed and needed a break from the boy. One friend said Jennings told her she pondered selling or giving away the boy and even mentioned throwing him out the window off a moving car.
Jennings' mother said she doesn't believe her daughter would have ever harmed Amir.
Several witnesses for the prosecution testified that they saw Jennings kick Amir when he misbehaved or squeeze his hand when he wouldn't say "mama." Employees at the bank where the boy was captured on security video testified that Amir was often not in a car seat when his mother pulled up at a drive-through window.
Prosecutors also played audio from Jennings' lengthy interview with police after her arrest in late December. In it, the young mother cried as she said her son was safe but that she couldn't prove to authorities that he was alive.
"Prove to me your child is alive," police Sgt. Arthur Thomas says.
"I can't," Jennings replied.
Several friends characterized Jennings as overwhelmed by the stresses of parenting an active, energetic child. Christian Dickerson, a high school friend who lived with Jennings and her mother for a time, said that Jennings once told her she'd thought about selling or giving Amir away to allow some time for herself.
Jennings' mother sought to refute that testimony, portraying Dickerson as a bad influence on her child. Jocelyn Jennings Nelson also told the court she disagreed with her headstrong daughter on parenting styles but didn't believe she would ever harm her son.