City News Service

Father, Girlfriend Accused of Severely Abusing Boy Face Torture, Cruelty Charges

The boy was suffering from "severe injuries" -- the nature of which weren't disclosed -- that "required immediate medical attention."

A Navy sailor and his live-in girlfriend, who are accused of severely abusing his 5-year-old son, were charged Thursday with torture and cruelty to a child resulting in great bodily injury.

Benjamin Matthew Whitten, 33, and Jeryn Christine Johnson, 25, were arrested Tuesday following an investigation by Murrieta police into the injuries to his biological son, who is on life support at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego.

The two made their initial court appearances Thursday afternoon at the Southwest Justice Center, but their arraignment was rescheduled to Aug. 24. The Navy is closely monitoring the case, prosecutors told NBC4. Two uniformed members of the Navy were present Thursday in the courtroom.

Whitten, who has been stationed at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment-San Diego since March 2016, is being held in lieu of $1 million bail at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta. Johnson is being held in lieu of $75,000 bail at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.

According to Murrieta police Lt. Tony Conrad, paramedics were summoned about 10 a.m. Tuesday to the couple's Murrieta residence at 24001 Verdun Lane, near Mountain Pride Park, regarding a child in medical distress.

The boy was malnourished and suffering from severe injuries that required immediate medical attention, according to police. After the child was examined at a Temecula Valley trauma center, the decision was made to airlift him to the pediatric hospital for specialized care. The tot remains in grave condition, according to Conrad.

Detectives arrested the pair after questioning them at length and searching their house, where Conrad described the living conditions as "extremely unsanitary." He said 11 dogs, four cats and two fish were impounded by animal control officers.

Whitten was awarded primary custody of his son several years ago after divorcing the child's mother, who reportedly suffered from a "mental disorder," court documents stated.

Neither Whitten, a Texas native who enlisted in the Navy in January 2009, or Johnson has any record of prior felony or misdemeanor convictions in Riverside County.

NBC4's Tony Shin contributed to this report.

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