Two Women Sentenced to Prison for Locking 8-Year-Old Boy in Dark Room
In a distressing case of child abuse, two women have been handed prison sentences for subjecting their 8-year-old son to unspeakable horrors. Helecia Morris, 41, the biological mother of the victim, and Donna Jung, 57, who was married to Morris during the period of abuse, faced judgment in Superior Court. The presiding judge, Lisa A. Puglisi, sentenced Morris to eight years in prison for child endangerment, along with an additional four years for unrelated offenses. Jung received a seven-year prison term for her involvement in the child’s torment.
The shocking details of the abuse emerged during the trial. Photographs submitted as evidence displayed deep purple bruises on the boy’s thighs and buttocks, inflicted by Morris using a belt with a buckle or similar hard object. The state Division of Child Protection and Permanency initiated an investigation after the child was unable to sit down at school due to the severity of the beatings.
The abuse didn’t end there. Jung punched the young boy in the face, causing his lip to split, which prompted the women to keep him home from school to evade further scrutiny. However, the child’s prolonged absence raised suspicion and triggered a subsequent investigation, leading to the arrest and charges against both women.
The court learned of the abhorrent conditions in which the boy was confined. He testified that he was locked alone in a dark room devoid of basic necessities such as a bed, furniture, toys, or even a toilet. In his isolation, he resorted to urinating in a heating vent to avoid soiling the carpet. While he ate in the darkness, he could hear his family dining in the adjacent kitchen. The women removed the light bulb as punishment for his boredom-induced flickering of the light switch.
Further evidence revealed the women’s attempts to tarnish the child’s reputation. They falsely portrayed him as a troublesome student to his second-grade teacher, despite no evidence of behavioral issues at school. In contrast, the foster mother who provided care after his removal testified that he was a delightful and helpful child.
The child’s severe malnourishment was also evident, as the women went to the extent of locking the refrigerator to prevent him from accessing food. The severity of his condition prompted the assistant prosecutor, Mara Brater, to emphasize the gravity of their actions during the sentencing hearing.
During the hearing, Morris occasionally expressed disagreement and shed tears while the assistant prosecutor detailed the crimes. When given the opportunity to address the court, Morris maintained that she is not a malicious person and never intended harm. She apologized to her parents, who had adopted her, and to her three children, acknowledging her failure to protect and care for them.
The young victim, still traumatized by the abuse, opted not to attend the hearing, fearing confrontation with the perpetrators. A letter from his grandmother, who had adopted him, was read in court, urging severe punishment for both women. The letter conveyed the enduring memory of the horrors he endured and pleaded with the judge to consider the child’s harrowing experiences in rendering a verdict.
Melanie Drozjock of the Ocean County Public Defender’s Office sought the minimum sentence for Morris, citing mental illness and a lifetime of drug addiction as contributing factors. However, Brater highlighted that Morris was not under the influence of drugs during the period of abuse. Moreover, the judge noted Morris’s lack of seriousness throughout the trial, including muttering and falling asleep on multiple occasions.
Ultimately, Morris received an eight-year prison sentence for child endangerment, two years short of the maximum term. Additionally, she was given an extra four-year term, to be served consecutively, for other offenses she pleaded guilty to after the trial. Judge Puglisi deemed the 12-year sentence fair given the nature and circumstances of the crimes.
Jung, who had no prior criminal record, was sentenced to seven years in prison for her involvement in the abuse. Her attorney expressed remorse on her behalf, emphasizing that the boy should never have suffered as he did. Jung, however, attempted to shift blame elsewhere, claiming she was following instructions from the child’s counselor. The assistant prosecutor vehemently refuted this claim, stating unequivocally that the defendants were never instructed to treat the child in such a deplorable manner.
As this distressing case reaches its conclusion, justice has been served for the young victim, whose harrowing ordeal will forever remain etched in his memory.