PRINCETON — A boyfriend who still denied remembering how he brutally beat a 2-year-old child to death and a mother who watched while that child, her son, was beaten and did nothing while he suffered entered into plea deals Thursday in Mercer County Circuit Court.
John Colan Powers, 47, and Candice Jones, 32, both of Green Valley, had separate plea hearings before Circuit Court Judge Mark Wills. Both Powers and Jones were arrested in August 2018 following the brutal beating death of Jones’ 2-year-old son, Joseph “JoJo” Garbosky III.
During his plea hearing Thursday morning, Powers entered into a best-interest plea in which he pleaded guilty to death of a child by parent or guardian, which carries a possible sentence of 15 years to life in prison. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury. Both charges have a possible sentence of two to 10 years in prison.
In a separate hearing conducted Thursday afternoon, Jones pleaded guilty to child neglect resulting in death, which carries a sentence of three to 15 years in prison.
Jones told investigators that she had seen Powers abuse her son repeatedly, and did not seek medical attention for him or contact police because “Powers repeatedly threatened to kill her and she was afraid of him,” Prosecuting Attorney George Sitler told the court.
By entering into a best-interest plea, Powers was not admitting guilt. Wills explained pleading in one’s best interest to make sure Powers understood the concept. Wills asked Powers if he was entering into a best-interest plea in order to avoid the possibility of a jury finding him guilty of charges with stiffer sentences that would result in more prison time.
“You’re saying you don’t know what happened, won’t admit what happened,” Wills said 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 replied.
In October of 2018, a Mercer County Grand Jury indicted Powers and Jones 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.
“Even though he says he has an absent memory and is unable to specifically admit to the acts that led to the death of JoJo Garbosky, he’s given up his right to trial and exposed himself to a life sentence plus two two to 10 year sentences. If the court imposes the sentences consecutively, he would not be eligible for parole consideration until he had served 19 years in the penitentiary, and then it’s a lifetime exposure, so he may never make it out of prison,” Sitler said after the hearing.
Powers was the live-in boyfriend of Jones at the time of the toddler’s death.
According to court documents, 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. The child was not taken to the hospital for treatment until two weeks after the injuries occurred.
During the Powers plea hearing, Sitler told the court what the state’s evidence would have been at a trial.
The third-degree burn was inflicted when Powers put a Meals Ready to Eat heat pack against JoJo’s arm, Sitler stated.
Jones witnessed the abuse, but did not attempt to physically intervene, according to a criminal complaint filed by now-retired Sgt. M.D. Clemons, who was with the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit.
The case against Powers and Jones began on Aug. 8, 2018, when the two brought JoJo to Bluefield Regional Medical Center for treatment. The child was subsequently transported to a Charleston hospital due to his extensive injuries. JoJo died on Aug. 10.
Child Protective Services were then notified and Clemons was called in to investigate.
At a preliminary hearing for Jones, Clemons testified that she traveled to the Charleston hospital and spoke to medical personnel regarding the toddler’s injuries.
Jojo’s injuries included retinal hemorrhages, brain bleeds, subdural hematomas/blood clots, healing third-degree burns on his right arm, a healing left scapular fracture and right-rib fracture, both of which were more than 14 days old, and a corner fracture of his right upper arm.
According to the criminal complaint filed by Clemons, a Child Protective Services worker told her that Jones admitted to witnessing Powers abuse her child.
In a later interview with Clemons, Jones again admitted to seeing Powers abuse her son, the criminal complaint states. The incident occurred while Powers was attempting to potty-train the toddler.
“Ms. Jones stated that she observed Mr. Powers strike (the child) approximately there to four times on his bottom with a belt and put him in the bathtub,” Clemons stated in her complaint.
Powers then became angry because the toddler “was squirming,” the complaint continues, and subsequently slammed him face-first on the floor, struck him repeatedly in the face with an open hand, called him “a retard” for not being able to use the potty, and then shook him violently for three to five minutes “with both hands by the throat and the back of his head.”
When urine was spilled out of the potty chair during the incident, Powers became infuriated and body-slammed the child into the bathtub, according to the criminal complaint.
The case involving JoJo was not the first time Powers had been arrested and charged with abusing a child. He was charged 23 years ago with abusing a child in Raleigh County.
According to court documents the Daily Telegraph obtained in August 2018, 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.”
The mother of the child who was abused in Raleigh County case, who asked not to be identified, told the Daily Telegraph that she met Powers through family and church. She said that she did not know that dating Powers causally would one day result in her son, then a toddler, being held against a floor furnace and burned on his head, body and hands. The mother said that when she came home after Powers was babysitting her son, she discovered that her child’s hands had been “burned to the bone.”
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 in. Police were called when they arrived at a doctor’s office, and Powers was arrested in the parking lot.
The mother stated that 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,” she said. “They could tell there was pressure put on his hands.”
Prosecutors offered Powers a plea deal in the case, the mom recalled, and he ultimately served 13 months behind bars for child neglect.
Referring to the current Mercer County case, the Raleigh County 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.”
David Hart of North Carolina, who is the biological father of Candice Jones and JoJo’s grandfather, attended both plea hearings. After his daughter’s plea hearing, he said that he was unhappy with the results of both.
“We’re not happy with it,” he said. “I don’t think Candice really realizes the severity of what’s happened. 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.”
Hart said he was not satisfied with the time Powers would serve in prison.
“We’re not happy with either one of them,” he said of the plea deals. “I think they ought to release him to me. That would be taken care of.”
Wills scheduled both sentencing hearings for later in October so members of JoJo’s family can address the court.
— Contact Greg Jordan at email@example.com