PRINCETON — A man charged in the death of a 2-year-old boy in Mercer County also faced child abuse charges 23 years ago in Raleigh County.
John Colan Powers, 46, of Green Valley, is charged with second-degree murder, death by a parent, guardian or custodian and child abuse resulting in serious injury in the Aug. 10 death of Joseph “JoJo” Garbosky III.
The toddler’s mother, Candice Jones, 31, of Green Valley, is charged with death by a parent, guardian or custodian and child neglect resulting in death.
In the Mercer case, Powers reportedly body slammed the child into a bathtub, inflicted a third-degree burn on his arm and engaged in abuse that resulted in several broken bones, retinal hemorrhages, brain bleeds and subdural hematomas/blood clots, according to a criminal complaint filed by West Virginia State Police Sgt. M.D. Clemons.
Jones witnessed the abuse, but did not attempt to physically intervene, Clemons testified at a preliminary hearing last week in Mercer County Magistrate Court.
According to court documents obtained by the Daily Telegraph, Powers was indicted by the Raleigh County Grand Jury in October of 1995 for felony child abuse resulting in injury and felony child neglect.
A criminal complaint also filed in October of 1995 by Beckley Police Department Detective J.S. Shumate cited significant injuries to the victim, who was also 2 years old.
“The child has burns and abrasions to the forehead, both hands, buttocks, back area and the top of his head,” the criminal complaint states. “The child had bruising to the neck and chin area, chest area, penis area and various locations on his legs.”
Shumate wrote in his complaint that Powers advised the injuries occurred when the child fell on a furnace and some acorns.
However, the complaint also notes a physician said, “These injuries coincide with child abuse and the injuries could not have occurred as the defendant advised.”
Powers was the primary caretaker of the toddler when the injuries occurred, Shumate stated in the complaint.
More than two decades ago, the mom of the Raleigh County victim was a single, working mother who met Powers through family and church. She had no idea that the casual dating relationship would one day result in her toddler being held to a floor furnace and burned on his head, body and hands.
The mom asked not to be identified in this story. Although her son is now an adult, she has not told him of the abuse he suffered as a toddler.
“I’d known him (Powers) for a month or two,” the mom recalled during a telephone interview. “We were not living together, but he stayed at the house a couple of times. We were seeing each other, but not tied to each other.”
One morning, the mother found herself without a babysitter and Powers offered to watch her son.
She agreed, but later arrived home to a nightmare.
“I came home and my son was on a pillow on the couch, and he was wearing a sweatsuit, and it was hot as hell outside and inside,” the mom said. “He jumped up and clung on to me, and I saw his face. I saw the burns on his forehead and looked down and saw his hands — they were burned to the bone.”
The mother said she rushed toward the door with her child to take him for medical treatment, but Powers attempted to block the escape.
“He slammed the door shut but I finally got out and ran down the hill to my car,” the mom remembered. “I had (my child) on my lap.”
Powers followed the mother to the car, and jumped in the passenger seat. He told her she wasn’t going anywhere, but the mom continued on to the doctor’s office, reiterating to Powers that she was going to get medical help for her son.
“If I could have wrecked my car and killed him that day I would have,” the mom said.
Upon arrival at the physician’s office, the mom said she ran inside with her son.
“I said, ‘Take my kid and call the cops,” the mom recalled. “I started telling them, ‘Please, check my son.’”
Police were called, and Powers was arrested in the parking lot.
The mother said Powers told her that her son had fallen on a floor furnace. “The burns that were on his hands were so deep, they (physicians) said there was no way … they said if he had fallen he would have gotten up quickly. They could tell there was pressure put on his hands.”
Prosecutors offered Powers a plea deal in the case, the mom said, and he ultimately served 13 months behind bars for child neglect.
Referring to the current Mercer case, the mother said, “So now here’s a little boy that had to die because the state hasn’t done a damn thing to keep him locked up.”
During the preliminary hearing for Jones last Thursday, it was again noted that the Mercer County child, known as “JoJo,” suffered broken bones and burns more than two weeks prior to when his mother and Powers finally sought medical treatment for him.
Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler asked Sgt. Clemons during the hearing if the two sought medical attention for the toddler in the weeks after the injury.
“No,” Clemons answered. “Ms. Jones stated she voiced opinion about it, and Mr. Powers said they didn’t need to be in the system — meaning CPS.”
Sitler again asked Clemons if the two sought any medical care for the child’s injuries.
“There was no medical attention for the chid in the past four to five months,” Clemons responded.
JoJo’s injuries came on the radar for authorities when Jones and Powers brought the toddler to Bluefield Regional Medical Center on Aug. 8. He was subsequently transported to a Charleston hospital. At that time, hospital staff notified Child Protective Services and Clemons.
It was reported during the hearing that Jones and Powers had lived in Mercer County for six months. Prior to that, Jones and JoJo resided in North Carolina with her father and stepmother.
“They (Jones and Powers) apparently met online,” Clemons testified. “I think they met on Facebook.”
Jones then acquired a mobile home in Mercer County, and she and Powers moved in together.
Following the hearing, JoJo’s grandparents displayed cellphone photographs of the child when he was living in North Carolina. In the photos, the toddler is smiling and alert — grinning with a face full of birthday cake icing and posing in his Easter suit.
In contrast, more recent photos of the toddler shared on social media show a solemn child with dark circles under his eyes.
The Raleigh County mom said she was not shocked to hear of Powers’ recent arrest for child abuse.
“I’m not surprised at all,” she said, with tears choking her voice. “There’s no reason it should have happened though, no reason.”
The mother had no sympathy for Jones, who has told investigators she did not seek help for JoJo because she was afraid of Powers.
“I don’t know why somebody wouldn’t speak up because that’s the first thing I would do,” the mom said. “She could have said something to a coworker … There’s no excuse. That is her child.”
The mother also noted the ability, and the importance, of doing background checks online before bringing an individual into one’s home.
In 1995, she noted, mothers did not have such Internet services. “You didn’t have that ability back then,” she said. “Now you do. Find out who you are around, who your kids are around. You have the world at your fingertips to keep these people out of your life”
The mom is now saddened at the tragic loss of life of an innocent 2-year-old.
“I just don’t understand how he (Powers) has gotten this far doing this — how he has been allowed to keep doing this,” she said. “They need to stiffen these laws, they need to lock these people up, they need to keep an eye on them when they’re out and make them register.”
— Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.