Relatives of a 20-month-old girl who police say was beaten to death by her mother's 15-year-old boyfriend were growing concerned about how hard the toddler was being spanked but did not realize the punishment had become abusive.
"I'm wondering what happened, too. I have a lot of unanswered questions," said Amy Patterson, the toddler's maternal grandmother.
Anthony Weakfall Jr. was charged with second-degree murder in the beating of Imani Jennings. Police said Weakfall beat the toddler with a metal rod, cable wire and his hand for an hour after she urinated on the floor Friday morning. He then left for school.
Police said the toddler's mother, 18-year-old Cherron Patterson, and Weakfall returned from school that day to find the child's lifeless body.
Investigators said they also learned that for the last two weeks Patterson and Weakfall went to school and left the child home alone with only a bowl of chicken nuggets and a glass of milk. The pair also admitted beating the child as a form of discipline when she would have an accident, police said.
"Why? That's the only question I kept asking myself why would something do something like that what did she ever do to anybody," said Lee Jennings Sr., the girl's grandfather.
Lee Jennings Jr., 20, said he stopped dating Cherron Patterson a year ago. He, too, said he never suspected his daughter was being abused.
However, both Jennings Jr. and Amy Patterson said they had not seen Imani for two months before the baby's death. Jennings said Cherron Patterson refused to honor his court-ordered visitation rights.
Patterson, who is six months pregnant, was charged with assault and child endangerment in a prior incident involving Imani. She was being held on $50,000 bail.
Eric Jeschke, the lawyer representing Weakfall, did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. Prosecutors could not immediately provide the name of Patterson's lawyer.
For a time in 2007, Cherron Patterson lived at a residence for teenage mothers and was involved in a parenting program, Amy Patterson said. Relatives also offered to help care for Imani, said her mother and Jennings.
"The help was there," Patterson said. "She was just bullheaded."
Amy Patterson said she holds Weakfall and her daughter both responsible for Imani's death.
"I love my daughter. But now she has to live with something the rest of her life. They both have to live with this the rest of their lives," Patterson said.
On Sunday, about 60 neighbors and relatives gathered outside Imani's home for a candlelight vigil.
Doreen Davis said the couple were over at her house with Imani only a few days ago.
"I'm feeling so many different things right now," Davis said. "I don't even have the words. Mainly anger."
Although he was charged with an adult crime, Weakfall will be treated as a juvenile offender because of his age, said First Chief Assistant District Attorney Rick Trunfio.
An offender 16 or older could face a minimum prison sentence of 15 years and a maximum of 25 years to life. If convicted as a juvenile, an offender faces a minimum of four years to nine years to life in prison, Trunfio said. Weakfall is being held at Hillbrook Detention center without bail.
Some family members think justice needs to be served.
"I know he's a child, but his actions were like an adult. I feel like he should be treated as an adult because he was acting like an adult when he was beating my niece," said Leah Thomas.
Furneral arrangements for Imani Jennings have been set. Calling hours are Wednesday morning at 11:00 at the Tucker Missionary Baptist Church, which is located at 515 Oakwood Avenue in Syracuse. Funeral services will follow at noon, also at the church.