Amir Jennings’ grandmother said in court Wednesday she worried about her grandson’s whereabouts but didn’t think her daughter would hurt him.
Jocelyn Jennings, at times crying and wiping tears from her face, testified in a Richland County courtroom that her daughter had once been a child with a bright future. Good academically and athletically, she was a Girl Scout and well-rounded student at Columbia’s Dreher High School, where she was on the color guard squad and girl’s basketball team.
But, the mother testified, her daughter dropped out of Winthrop University and had a baby. Relations between the two became strained in the months before the 18-month-old disappeared in November, Jocelyn Jennings testified.
Still, she replied, “No, sir,” when asked by her daughter’s attorney, Hemphill Pride II, if Zinah Jennings would have killed Amir.
Zinah Jennings, 23, is accused of unlawful conduct toward a child, a felony that carries a possible 10-year prison sentence. Jennings has been in jail since Dec. 30 for not telling investigators where Amir is or what might have happened to him.
Besides Jocelyn Jennings, other defense witnesses told the jury that Zinah Jennings had treated Amir well, had gone to church regularly with her son and been a good babysitter for other children.
Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors put up the last of their 40 witnesses – FBI agent Craig Januchowski. He introduced tape recordings of telephone calls between Jocelyn and Zinah Jennings made in February, when Zinah was an inmate at the county jail.
Jail inmates are warned all calls are recorded. In the calls played in court, Zinah Jennings is heard talking to her mother about life after jail.
“The first thing I’m going to do when I get out, and that’s to go back to school and get my school stuff how I want it. I need to go back to school,” says Zinah Jennings.
“School is important,” Jocelyn Jennings says. “But ... I can’t stop thinking about my grandson ... who I have come to know and to love. And he is your seed. ... I don’t understand.”
Zinah Jennings replies: “So if I get out, where are they going to put me?”
In another February call, Jocelyn Jennings begs her daughter to tell police Amir is safe.
“I already told them that,” Zinah Jennings says.
“For you to say that is one thing, (but) that don’t mean nothing. They think Amir is dead. ... I don’t want to believe you would take your son’s life. ... But until you let his whereabouts be known, they’re not going to let you out. ... They’re building a case against you, a murder case. ...You’re battling against the Columbia Police Department, the FBI, SLED – SLED, this ain’t no joke.”
People are putting yellow ribbons on telephone poles in hopes of Amir’s safe return, Jocelyn Jennings tells her daughter.
And, Zinah Jennings says: “Yeah, now everybody knows I had a baby.”
The trial resumes this morning.