Georgia prosecutor: “I’m pleased these two defendants will not get away with this brutal abuse”
MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) — A suburban Atlanta couple was found guilty Friday of one count each of felony murder and involuntary manslaughter in the death of their 8-year-old son, in a case that prompted authorities to raid the Tennessee-based church where the parents are members.
Joseph and Sonya Smith were also found guilty of four counts of cruelty to children, three counts of aggravated assault, one count of reckless conduct and one count of false imprisonment in the death of their son Josef.
Sentencing was set for March 27.
The defendants remained motionless as Cobb County Deputy Clerk Tricia Crawford read the verdicts, although Sonya Smith closed her eyes after the jury found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter and murder.
The packed courtroom also remained silent, after Judge James Bodiford threatened to respond to any outbursts with 20 days in the county jail.
Prosecutor Eleanor Dixon said, “I’m pleased with the verdict. I’m pleased these two defendants will not get away with this brutal abuse.”
The parents had been charged in a 14-count indictment in June with murder, cruelty to children, aggravated assault and false imprisonment in their son’s 2003 death.
The Smiths are members of the Franklin, Tennessee-based Remnant Fellowship Church, which grew out of church leader Gwen Shamblin’s Weigh Down Workshop, a Christian diet program she created in 1986. Authorities raided the church in June 2004 as part of the investigation of Josef Smith’s death. No one else has been charged in the boy’s death.
Several members of the church attended the court session, but declined comment.
Prosecutors charged that Josef Smith was beaten by his parents, locked inside a wooden box and forced to stay in a closet for hours at a time before he died in October 2003.
Defense attorneys for the couple contended that Josef did not die from the injuries, and that the county medical examiner failed to perform crucial tests that would have found the actual cause of his death.
A police witness said Josef Smith’s father told officers his 8-year-old son frequently needed discipline because the child carved death threats on the walls that kept the family awake at night and claimed he was a foot-soldier for the devil.
But prosecutors said the parents met that behavior with a tragic overreaction that led to the boy’s death — his body full of bruises and other injuries — after an October 2003 prayer session.
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