New York

Former Babysitter Becomes Key Witness in Case Against Father, Girlfriend Accused of Torturing Boy

"He is a very sweet kid, very sweet. Now I just realize he didn't know how to ask for help," Jodie Sanchez said.

A family friend and a former babysitter of a 5-year-old boy found severely injured and malnourished in a Murrieta home is now a key witness in the case against the boy's father and his live-in girlfriend.

Jodie Sanchez told NBC 7 Thursday, she is regretting not having read the warning signs.

"We've been a wreck, we've been thinking, it was right there under my nose and I didn't see it," Sanchez said.

U.S. Navy Sailor Benjamin Matthew Whitten, 33, and Jeryn Christine Johnson, 25, were arrested Tuesday in Murrieta.

Both faced a judge Thursday and were charged with torture and cruelty to a child resulting in great bodily injury. Whitten's bail was set at $1 million and Johnson at $75,000.

Whitten was stationed in San Diego.

His son remains in serious condition at Rady Children's Hospital.

Sanchez spoke to NBC 7 on the phone Thursday.

She said Whitten and Johnson restricted the boy's diet and prohibited her from feeding him more.

"He would come to me and ask for food. I would have to tell him no," she said. "Well I would ask her first and she would say no because he has stomach issues and he'll throw up."

When paramedics took the boy to the hospital Tuesday, investigators said he was severely malnourished.

Sanchez said she last saw the boy on Oct. 1. She said at the time, he was small and pale but did not appear sick. 

"He is a very sweet kid, very sweet. Now I just realize he didn't know how to ask for help," Sanchez said.

Authorities also rescued 11 dogs, four cats, and two fish from the home.

Sanchez said Johnson fostered rescue animals and she realizes now the dogs were better fed.

"I could say they treated him like an animal. From what I see, from what I hear now, it seems like they treated him like one of the animals," Sanchez said.

Court records indicate the boy’s mother, Sheila Whitten, lost custody three years ago because of a mental disorder.

Sanchez told NBC 7, the mother had moved to New York.

Under the circumstances, the boy has no family or guardian with him.

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