Sheriff: Stiff charges possible in boy’s death

Published 2:57 pm Friday, November 21, 2008

The grandmother and aunt accused in the starvation death of a 4-year-old boy could face stiffer charges as investigators dig deeper into the case, Scott County Sheriff Mike Lee said.

Lee said no more arrests were anticipated in the Nov. 9 death of Austin Watkins. He said earlier that an autopsy showed the boy weighed only 19 pounds at the time of his death.

Lee said investigators have interviewed family members who made statements earlier this month to the news media that indicated they may have known the boy was being abused.

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Lee said those statements had been exaggerated.

“They knew a lot less than they originally stated (to the media),” he said.

Janice Mowdy, the child’s paternal grandmother, and his aunt, Stephanie Bell, are being held without bond at the Scott County Jail on charges of murder and felony child abuse. Officials said the two do not yet have attorneys.

Lee said investigators have subpoenaed Austin’s medical records from 2007, when they say he was admitted to a hospital. He said investigators are trying to determine whether there was a prolonged pattern of abuse. If they determine there was, the women’s charges could be upgraded to capital murder.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services had removed Austin and his three siblings from their mother’s home in 2005. Lee said a judge granted Mowdy custody of the four children in 2007.

Lee said no one had alerted state officials or his department about any possible neglect before the boy’s death.

Tammie Watkins, the victim’s mother, has filed for custody of her remaining three children — ages 9, 6 and 2. Those records are sealed in chancery court.

Lee said he and DHS want the children to remain in protective custody so they can continue to be monitored for trauma.