A preliminary hearing is scheduled Friday for a serviceman and his girlfriend accused of severely abusing his 5-year-old son in Murrieta.
Benjamin Matthew Whitten, 34, and Jeryn Christine Johnson, 26, were arrested in August following an investigation by Murrieta police.
The defendants are each charged with torture and child abuse, along with a sentence-enhancing allegation of causing injuries that rendered the victim comatose. Johnson is additionally charged with assault on a child resulting in great bodily injury.
The hearing Friday at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta will determine whether there’s sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for the pair.
Both defendants are being held in lieu of $1 million bail — Whitten at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta, Johnson at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.
The child, identified only as Whitten’s biological son, underwent several months of treatment at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego and is now in protective custody.
According to Murrieta police Lt. Tony Conrad, officers became aware of the couple on Aug. 15, after paramedics were summoned to 24001 Verdun Lane, near Mountain Pride Park, regarding a child in medical distress.
Conrad said that the boy was suffering from “severe injuries” and his condition “required immediate medical attention.” The nature of his impairment was not disclosed.
After the child was examined at a Temecula Valley trauma center, doctors decided to airlift him to the pediatric hospital for specialized care. He was on life support for an unspecified period of time.
After questioning Johnson and Whitten, who is in the U.S. Navy and previously stationed at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment-San Diego, investigators arrested the defendants.
Conrad described living conditions at the Whitten property as “extremely unsanitary,” noting that 11 dogs, four cats and two fish were impounded by animal control officers.
Neither defendant has any record of prior felony or misdemeanor convictions.
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