A Hopewell mother who starved to death her 13-year-old severely disabled son over a couple of weeks to the point he weighed only 24 pounds was sentenced to serve 20 years in prison in a case where the boy was “completely abandoned and neglected.”
The physician who performed an autopsy on the boy, Jalen Goldsborough, concluded that “this was someone who was basically skeletal,” said Hopewell Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Matthew Bingham.
Amy FaJohn decided in December 2017 to begin limiting her son’s food intake — he was bedridden and had to be fed with a feeding tube — but “the actual starvation, which ultimately killed him, probably lasted a couple of weeks,” said Bingham, quoting Dr. Jeffery Gofton of the state medical examiner’s office who conducted an autopsy.
The boy was already permanently disabled from horrendous physical abuse he suffered as an infant in 2004 at the hands of his father, Charles Bryon Goldsborough II, who pleaded guilty 14 years ago to aggravated malicious wounding. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison with 30 years suspended.
He abused his son so severely that a prosecutor said at the time that Goldsborough, then 27, “for all intents and purposes ended the life of his son in all but physiology.”
FaJohn was then left to care for the boy on her own. She began a relationship with another man, Anthony Saunders, and the couple began living together and had two children of their own, now ages 6 and 10.
On Wednesday, after taking into account the appalling nature of Jalen’s death but also the circumstances that FaJohn faced in caring for a child left acutely disabled by abuse, Hopewell Circuit Judge William Edward Tomko III sentenced FaJohn, 38, to 40 years in prison with 20 years suspended on her conviction of second-degree murder.
The punishment was at the high end of discretionary state sentencing guidelines crafted for FaJohn, which called for an active prison term of between 12 years and nine months and 21 years and four months.
Bingham asked the judge for an upward departure from the guidelines, while defense attorney Matthew Stewart sought a downward departure.
Saunders, 35, FaJohn’s boyfriend, who lived with her, Jalen and the two other children in the 4000 block of North Avenue, was sentenced to five years in prison with two suspended on his conviction of felony child neglect. In pronouncing the sentence, the judge addressed Saunders’ role in the death, saying, “You looked the other way.”
Saunders told detectives after he was taken into custody that he was a “horrible person” and that he didn’t do anything about Jalen’s deteriorating condition.
On Wednesday, Gofton testified that Jalen’s body was covered with bedsores, with some resulting in breaks in his skin. And those injuries showed no signs of having been treated with ointments or bandages. He was severely malnourished with sunken eyes.
“It was almost as if he wasn’t inspected, wasn’t checked, wasn’t cared for — he was just completely neglected and abandoned,” the prosecutor said. “He was essentially wrapped up in blankets and a sweatshirt, almost as if he was a mummy.”
Gofton testified that Jalen also suffered from acute pneumonia and had a lung infection that had gone untreated. He was bloated, his skin was pale and dry, and his lips were cracked. And his body organs “were markedly below what you’d expect for a 13-year-old male in terms of size and weight,” Bingham said.
Jalen’s weight, measured after his death, was 24 pounds.
“The doctor said this wasn’t something where he just passed away on the date he was pronounced dead,” Bingham said. “It was something of an ongoing process that probably lasted a couple of weeks.”
Hopewell Detective David Hirn testified that FaJohn told him in an interview that she began to limit Jalen’s food intake in December 2017 and that ultimately resulted in his death by starvation.
“In a lot of ways, this case was not satisfying because we couldn’t figure out exactly why [she starved and neglected her son],” Bingham said. “She was adamant that she didn’t want anything to happen to him. Nonetheless, she decided ... to slow down his feeding.”
Authorities wondered whether FaJohn may have believed she was committing a mercy killing, because she knew her son was suffering from the earlier abuse.
But Bingham noted there was a history of neglect. Detective Benjamin Ransom testified that he learned in interviews with the couple’s other children that the family had left Jalen behind when they went on vacation — apparently for a weekend — to Virginia Beach in 2017.
FaJohn, who testified Wednesday, was in tears for the majority of her sentencing hearing. When asked by her attorney what plans she may have after being released from prison, FaJohn said, “All I’ve ever done is take care of Jalen. And he’s gone. What good am I now?”
Stewart also asked his client why she never took Jalen to the doctor when she noticed his condition was deteriorating. “I thought I could fix him myself, because I did everything else myself.”
Police were alerted to Jalen’s death after they got a call from FaJohn’s mother, who received a text message from her daughter on Sept. 2, 2018, to go to her house. FaJohn’s text message said it “was all her fault” and that her mother should go straight to Jalen after she arrived. She found the boy dead.
The mother called police, and a detective discovered a note that FaJohn wrote to her mother that read, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for this to happen.”
“Hate me, I know you will, [but] please don’t take it out on [the two other] kids,” FaJohn wrote.
No other family members were at the home when officers arrived about 9:30 that evening. Officers discovered Jalen’s feeding tube was not connected to the medical device by his bed that fed him and that the machine had been turned off.
After her arrest, FaJohn told detectives that she was the only person who routinely fed her son and that she became depressed and would routinely play video games for hours on end.
At FaJohn’s trial in July, Stewart, her attorney, told the court that Jalen required “24/7” care from FaJohn and that she spent most of her days and nights at home, alone with Jalen and sometimes with the other children. She experienced “enormous stress that goes along with that sort of isolation and duty, and experienced depression and suicidal thoughts,” Stewart said.
Jalen’s father, who remains incarcerated at the Lunenburg Correctional Center, violently abused his then-17-day-old son on Dec. 23, 2004, after he became frustrated by a lack of sleep. At the time, he was living with FaJohn in Chesterfield County.
Goldsborough told police he began shaking his son violently and, after doing so, threw the child in the air a couple of times “like a pizza,” letting the boy hit the bed at least once. He also told investigators that he smacked his son with his open hand at least once so hard that it made his hand hurt.
The physical abuse rendered the child blind, and doctors determined that his life span was reduced and that his brain and skull had stopped growing normally.
Goldsborough could be released from prison, with good behavior, on May 30, 2022, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections.