A mother who regularly flouted the importance of good parenting on social media admitted to standing and watching as her boyfriend called her two-year-old son a ‘r**ard’ and then beat him to death for struggling with potty training, a court heard last week.
Mother-of-two Candice Jones, 32, struck a deal with prosecutors last Thursday which saw her plead guilty to child neglect in exchange for a prison sentence of between three and 15 years.
Jones told investigators that she was too scared of her lover John Powers, 47, to prevent him from viciously battering her young son Joseph ‘JoJo’ Gaborsky III at her home in Princeton, West Virginia, in August 2018.
The court heard how Jones watched on as Powers savagely beat JoJo with a belt and body-slammed him into a bathtub after the toddler suffered a mishap during potty training.
Reportedly further incensed by the boy’s ‘squirming’, Powers then slammed the two-year-old face-first onto the floor, before shaking him violently ‘with both hands by the throat and back of his head’ for between three and five minutes.
JoJo wouldn’t receive medical attention for another two weeks. Jones claims she didn’t call an ambulance or summon police because ‘Powers repeatedly threatened to kill her’ and she was afraid of him.
The little boy tragically died two days after arriving at hospital, having suffered numerous broken bones, retinal hemorrhages, brain bleeds and blood clots.
On her Facebook page, Jones had reportedly posted numerous photos of JoJo, and her daughter, whose age is not known, and preached the importance of good parenting.
In the ‘About’ section of her profile, she also wrote: ‘i have two wonderful kids a son and daughter. I am separated. the best things in my life are these kids. there (sic) my whole world,’ according to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
In a post under her ‘Favourite Quotes’, she wrote: ‘Any one can say there (sic) a parent but a real parent is there no matter what and is there loveing (sic) unconditionally you can not be a partime (sic) parent it’s a 24 7 job.’
Jones’ father David Hart, whom she lived with before moving in with Powers, voiced disappointment at his daughter’s sentencing, insisting she should be jailed for longer as she has so far failed to show remorse for her actions.
‘We’re not happy with it. I don’t think Candice really realizes the severity of what’s happened,’ Hart told the Telegraph. ‘You know, we lost a grandson, and still today she has not shown any remorse when we talk to her or anything on any of this. And I just don’t think the sentencing is right.
‘I think she needs more time. She needs to know the severity of the crime she’s done. I don’t know what else to say about that, I really don’t,’ he continued.
Speaking about Powers, Hart added: ‘We’re not happy with either one of them. I think they ought to release him to me. That would be taken care of.’
During a separate hearing last Thursday, Powers – who was previously jailed for 13 months in 1995 for battering the two-year-old son of a former girlfriend – entered a ‘best interest’ plea into death of a child by parent or guardian.
The plea is not an admission of guilt, rather a concession that the defendant acknowledges there’s sufficient evidence to convict them. He now faces a sentence of between 15 years and life in jail.
‘You’re saying you don’t know what happened, won’t admit what happened,’ the judge Mark Wills said to Powers about best-interest pleas, adding, ‘Is that why you are entering this plea, to avoid being sentenced to more time in the penitentiary than you would under this plea agreement?’
‘Yes, sir,’ Powers responded.
Powers was the live-in boyfriend of Jones at the time of JoJo’s death. The pair had met online just months earlier, before moving in with one another into a mobile home in Mercer County.
The couple were both indicted by a Mercer County Grand Jury in October 2018 on charges including death of a child by parent or guardian by abuse, child neglect resulting in death, child neglect creating a substantial risk of bodily injury or death, child abuse resulting in injury and child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.
Powers was also indicted on additional charges of second-degree murder and child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury.
The 47-year-old claimed he cannot remember how he battered JoJo to death.
Court documents say that Powers reportedly slammed JoJo into a bathtub, inflicted a third-degree burn on his arm and engaged in heinous abuse that resulted in several broken bones, retinal hemorrhages, brain bleeds and blood clots.
The third degree burn was inflicted on JoJo when powers held a ready meal heat pack against his arm, prosecutors said.
The case against the couple began on August 8, 2018 when they brought JoJo into the Bluefield Regional Medical Center for treatment – two weeks after the attack took place.
Little JoJo was later transferred to a hospital in Charleston due to his extensive injuries. He died two days later on August 10.
Child Protective Services were then notified and a criminal investigation ensued.
Now-retired Sgt. M.D. Clemons, who was with the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit, testified that Jones admitted to witnessing Powers abuse her child while attempting to potty-train the toddler.
‘Ms. Jones stated that she observed Mr. Powers strike (the child) approximately three to four times on his bottom with a belt and put him in the bathtub,’ a complaint authored by Clemons states.
Powers then became angry because the toddler ‘was squirming,’ the complaint continues, before slamming the boy face-first onto the floor, striking him in the face with an open hand, and calling him a ‘r*tard’ for not being able to use the potty.
Jones then reportedly described how Powers then shook her son violently for as much as five minutes, with his hands clasped tightly around JoJo’s neck.
As reported by the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, this isn’t the first time Powers has been charged with the abuse of a child. He was charged in October 1995 for abusing another two-year-old boy in Raleigh County.
In that case, the child victim suffered ‘burns and abrasions to the forehead, both hands, buttocks, back area and the top of his head,’ in addition to, ‘bruising to the neck and chin area, chest area, penis area and various locations on his legs.’
Powers told investigators at the time the injuries occurred when the child fell onto a furnace and some acorns. However, it was determined the injuries ‘could not have occurred as the defendant advised’ and coincided with child abuse.
The mother of the victim, who asked not to be identified, told the outlet she’d met Powers at church. She said she had left Powers to babysit her son and returned home to find the child’s hands had been ‘burned to the bone’, after Powers held him against a floor furnace.
Powers tried to keep the mother from taking her son to a doctor, but she drove to a physician with him riding in the car’s passenger seat after he jumped into the vehicle.
Police were called when they arrived at a doctor’s office, and Powers was arrested in the parking lot.
‘The burns that were on his hands were so deep, [physicians] said there was no way … they said if he had fallen he would have gotten up quickly,’ she told the Telegraph. ‘They could tell there was pressure put on his hands.’
Prosecutors offered Powers a plea deal in the case and he ultimately served 13 months behind bars for child neglect.
The mother said had the state have kept Powers locked up for longer as she’d urged, then maybe JoJo would still be alive today.
Separate sentencing hearings have been scheduled for Jones and Powers later this month, so members of JoJo’s family can address the court.