MURRIETA (CBSLA) — Authorities said a couple who abused a 5-year-old boy so severely he has to learn to walk and talk again, were sentenced Friday.

The abusers were the boy’s biological father and his live-in girlfriend.

The boy’s father, Benjamin Matthew Whitten, 34, pleaded guilty to eight counts, including child abuse and
assault likely to cause great bodily injury or death. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

The live-in girlfriend, Jeryn Christine Johnson, 26, pleaded guilty to three counts, including torture and
child abuse causing the victim to become comatose. She was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences.

Before Judge William Lebov sentenced the two, the victim’s paternal grandmother, addressed the court.

Leslie Whitten described her grandson as a “once bubbly, active little boy … now confined to a wheelchair.” She told the judge that the boy is “learning to walk, talk, and eat again” adding that the family knows he has a long road to recovery because of the abuse he endured.

He was “a helpless victim against crimes committed on his little self with no way to defend himself,”
she added.

According to U.S. Navy records, Whitten was a Machinist’s Mate Nuclear 1st Class who worked out of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment San Diego. He enlisted in the Navy in 2009.

On Aug. 15, 2017, Murrieta police officers were called to a home in the 24000 block of Verdun Lane regarding a child in medical distress. Officers arrived within minutes and found the 5-year-old boy unconscious with severe injuries requiring immediate medical care.

Also in the home, authorities found 11 dogs, four cats and two fish. The animals were seized by Riverside County Animal Control, police said.

The boy was first taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital and later airlifted by medical helicopter to a San Diego County hospital where he remained in a coma for several months.

The victim, who was considered to be in grave condition when first found by police, is no longer hospitalized and is undergoing physical therapy.

The couple were prosecuted by deputy D.A. Jennifer Garcia.

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