Dad's girlfriend gets 30 years for ignoring boy's beating

2013-07-29T18:30:00Z 2013-07-29T21:37:15Z Dad's girlfriend gets 30 years for ignoring boy's beatingSusan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com

CROWN POINT | The girlfriend of a Gary man accused of beating his 5-year-old son to death in 2010 was sentenced Monday to 30 years for her role in the slaying.

The court sentenced Rochell Johnson, who had faced a maximum 50-year sentence, to the advisory sentence of 30 years, suspending five years, after considering the mental health factors in a case that had horrified even hardened police officers and a veteran coroner's pathologist.

Johnson on Monday tearfully and repeatedly admitted to "not responding as I should have."

"I ask God to forgive me," she told the court.

In a plea agreement reached in October, Johnson, 35, admitted to doing nothing to help Leon Walker while the child was being beaten by his father, Leon Burns, on April 28, 2010.

The child was beaten throughout the day with his hands and feet bound and tied, suffering bruises and scratches over his entire body, according to plea documents.

The boy had been in the care and custody of the couple while the child's mother was in a secure drug treatment facility, the documents state.

In other court documents, Burns admitted the boy's bruises were not all from one whipping and that he was the only one to beat the boy the day he died.

Prosecutors dropped murder and other charges against Johnson in exchange for her plea to neglect of a dependent

Testifying for the defense, a clinical psychologist told the court medical records show Johnson has suffered from seizures. His own tests showed Johnson suffered from emotional turmoil and cognitive difficulties, including a low I.Q.

Johnson was not considered dangerous by nature but could become overwhelmed in unfamiliar situations due to her limitations, he said.

Johnson's half-sister described her as a loving person, who as a child was rejected by her mother and raised by grandparents. She later became involved in abusive relationships, she said.

But deputy prosecuting attorney Aleksandra Dimitrijevic argued photos of the dead boy showed the fatal incident "did not just happen." The beatings took place over a long period of time, she told the court. The boy suffered injuries over every inch of his body, she said.

"She did nothing," Dimitrijevic said. "That's why she's sitting here today."

Defense attorney Derrick Julkes, however, argued there were no records of Johnson harming her own natural children.

Julkes said Johnson's limitations meant she doesn't have the ability to make quick decisions.

"She's a loving person, a kind person, a sweet person," said Julkes, describing Johnson as having gotten "wrapped up in a bad relationship" and not having reason to know Burns was going to kill the child.

Burns, 31, is next scheduled to appear in court Sept. 17 for a possible change of plea, according to court documents. He is charged with murder, neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing.

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