49-year-old Laura Jewell pleaded guilty to felony child abuse and neglect and malicious wounding in connection with the beating of her 8-year-old granddaughter this summer. She'd been facing a child torture charge, but the commonwealth decided to withdraw it, because of how the law is written.
That torture charge falls under the state code involving child labor laws. But now that could change. Delegate Bill Janis says he's working to fix the state law that might have made a difference in the Jewell case had the language been clear.
What's on the books right now only protects a child from a case of cruelty and torture while on the job.
"It seems to be our consensus that you can not use existing law to go after a parent or somebody outside an employment context with these charges of child cruelty and torture," said Del. Janis.
Jewell had been charged with child cruelty and torture. It carries a five year prison sentence. But the commonwealth decided not to prosecute after questioning whether it could apply to the high profile case.
In July, Jewell's eight year old granddaughter escaped a life that prosecutors say involved beatings and seclusion as punishment for wetting her bed.
"That young girl had gone through hell and had attempted to escape on previous occasions as was reported," said Del. Janis.
When the case came to light this summer, Louisa Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Garrett says he got in touch with Del. Janis who represents Louisa in hopes of getting the law changed.
"If we can fix the child torture statute something good came out of this," said Garrett.
Del. Janis says other jurisdictions have successfully used the law, but says it needs clarification.
He wants to move the child torture language from a subsection of the child labor law and make it a stand-alone criminal code. He'll propose the change at the next General Assembly session.
"That even in a parental relationship police have to have the tools necessary to go after this kind of cruelty," said Del. Janis.
Laura Jewell will be sentenced in February. She could face up to 30 years in prison. Her husband, Ronald Jewell, is set for trial next month.
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