COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - An attorney for the mother of a South Carolina toddler missing since Thanksgiving says police are violating his client's constitutional rights by opposing her release on bond.
Hemphill Pride II said in court Monday that police oppose Zinah Jennings' release from jail because the 22-year-old mother hasn't told them where her young son is. Amir Jennings was 18-months-old when he was last seen on Thanksgiving. Pride says his client has a right to remain silent.
"She's charged with a crime. For some reason they think that if you're charged with a crime and you don't cooperate with them then you're a flight risk," Pride told Judge Casey Manning. "I submit to you that Ms. Jennings has an absolute right to remain silent and she cannot be punished for it."
Records show that earlier this month, a judge deemed Zinah Jennings "mentally ill," and required that she take medication for symptoms of schizophrenia.
During Monday's hearing, the solicitor's office and Columbia police painted a picture of Jennings as an irresponsible young woman with a history of substance abuse, who denied she even had a son when first questioned by investigators before telling authorities conflicting stories about the boy's whereabouts.
"We still at this point have not been told by Ms. Jennings, or anyone, where her son is," said Columbia Police Chief Randy Scott. "Ms. Jennings is pregnant with another child. I know that has no bearing on her charges, but I think it's a prime example that she is not able to care at this point and is a flight risk."
Jennings' attorney told a judge that his pregnant client's $150,000 bond should be lowered so she can be released and get pre-natal care. The judge said he will rule later.
Last Thursday, dozens of state, local and federal officers searched an eight-and-a-half mile wooded area in rural North Columbia after getting what they described as "credible information." The search was called off after roughly six hours after crews found no evidence of Amir Jennings.
The boy's grandmother, Jocelyn Jennings, and other family members and friends were in court Monday. Jocelyn Jennings made no comments to reporters, instead she opted to have her daughter's attorney to speak for her.
"Please continue to keep this matter alive," said Pride. "It is very important that the child be found."
Police are asking anyone with information about the disappearance of Amir Jennings to call CrimeStoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. All calls remain anonymous. Earlier this month a possible $10,000 reward was put up for information tied to the Jennings case.