Woman admits to neglect in child beating case
By Ruth Ann Krause Post-Tribune correspondent October 26, 2012 11:50AM
Rochelle Johnson and live in boyfriend of Leon Burns charged in the beating death of 5 year old Leon Burns. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 28, 2012 6:08AM
A Gary woman facing life without parole has pleaded guilty to neglect of a dependent in the beating death of her former boyfriend’s 5-year-old son.
Rochell Johnson, 34, who has no criminal convictions on her record, admitted she put Leon Walker in a situation that endangered his life or health, but Johnson took no responsibility for inflicting any of the injuries the boy suffered.
Lake Superior Court Judge Clarence Murray accepted the plea agreement and scheduled a Jan. 4 sentencing hearing. Murray approved a request by defense attorney Derrick Julkes that a the public defenders office retain a neuropsychologist to examine Johnson for psychological and physical issues before her sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors intend to dismiss the life without parole sentencing enhancement filed in October 2010. Johnson will now face 20 to 50 years in prison on the neglect charge.
The child’s father, Leon Burns, 30, of Gary, has pleaded not guilty to murder, neglect of a dependent, battery and false informing.
At the time of Walker’s death, Burns and Johnson were living together with their children in Gary. Walker came to stay with the couple while his mother was in a secure drug treatment facility.
Throughout the day on April 28, 2010, Walker was beaten, his hands and feet were bound and tied, and at one point he could not feel his extremities from being bound for hours. The boy was beaten continuously throughout the day. Bruises and scratches covered the boy’s body, and he ultimately died from injuries he sustained while in the care of Burns and Johnson.
“As Leon Walker begged for help, Rochell Johnson did nothing to give him assistance, help him or free him,” the stipulated factual basis for Johnson’s guilty plea states. “Rochell Johnson placed Leon Walker, a dependent, in a situation that ultimately cost him his life.”
The boy died five days before his 6th birthday.
Burns’ next hearing date is Nov. 6 for scheduling a trial date or submitting a plea agreement.