Mother of girl found in closet appears in court

07/12/2012 12:00 AM

05/16/2014 7:04 PM

Shackled and wearing an orange jumpsuit, the mother of the 10-year-old child found locked in a closet appeared briefly in court today.

Jacole Prince, 29, did not speak during the hearing. Her attorney, Curtis Lee Winegarner, reiterated not-guilty pleas for Prince, who is charged with felony counts of assault, child abuse and child endangerment.

Jackson County Judge Margaret Sauer scheduled a pretrial hearing for Aug. 9.

Today’s appearance was over before a woman described as Prince’s best friend arrived at the courtroom.

The woman’s daughter, Lovetta Parker, said she’d brought her mother, who lives in an apartment downstairs from Prince in a housing complex in the 1300 block of Highland Avenue.

Parker said that Prince would come down for coffee, and her mother would cook for Prince and two daughters. She said her mother didn’t know Prince had a third daughter upstairs.

Parker said the discovery of the malnourished girl in the closet stunned her and her mother.

“It was shocking to us. It was ridiculous. It was crazy. I cried for three days straight.”

Parker said her mother did not want to be identified and did not want to talk to reporters.

Prince has been in jail since June 22 when authorities responded to a hotline call and found her oldest daughter, known as LP in court records, locked in an apartment closet.

The little girl — 10 years old and weighing just 32 pounds — told police she was often put in the closet for long periods of time. She told them she slept in there, and was often not allowed out to go to the bathroom. When police found her, the closet was soaked in urine and feces, with no light or toys, according to court records.

Records also show that Prince admitted in early 2006 that she intentionally withheld food from LP so she wouldn’t go to the bathroom too often. The state took custody of LP and a younger sister in February 2006. About 13 months later, after Prince reportedly worked through a checklist of requirements set by the state, she got her two daughters back.

A month later, LP stopped going to school and disappeared from sight. Neighbors of Prince said they didn’t even know that LP lived in the apartment, although they had often seen Prince with her two other daughters, ages 2 and 8.

On Wednesday, prosecutors charged Prince’s boyfriend, Marcus Benson, 34, with two counts of felony child endangerment.

Benson, who neighbors say regularly stayed with Prince in her apartment, initially told police he didn’t know that the girl had been forced to live inside the closet. Benson is not LP’s biological dad but is the father of Prince’s two other children. When Prince lost custody of her two children in 2006 — the third hadn’t been born yet — the state put the girls with Benson. According to court records, Benson allegedly mistreated LP.

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