Mother of missing Columbia toddler appears in court

Zinah Jennings, the mother of missing Columbia toddler Amir Jennings, appears in court Monday.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - The mother of missing Columbia toddler Amir Jennings appeared in court Monday for a hearing where a judge is considering several pre-trial motions.

Zinah Jennings has been in jail since late December on unlawful conduct toward a child charges. Her son, Amir, was 18-months-old when he disappeared around Thanksgiving.

Jennings, who is pregnant with another child, sported a new look on Monday, wearing a white blouse and slacks instead of the usual prison jumpsuit she has worn in the past. Her attorney Hemphill Pride also asked Judge Knox McMahon to remove the handcuffs and shackles Jennings arrived in while the hearing was going on. McMahon granted that request.

Jennings smiled while talking with family members, including her mother Jocelyn, before Monday's marathon session during which Pride presented more than a dozen motions.

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Pride asked that television cameras be barred from covering Jennings' August 27 trial and also argued that search warrants should be thrown out in the trial, including one which led to what investigators say was blood in Jennings' car.

Police say cadaver dogs were also used during the investigation and they picked up a "hit" on Jennings' car.

"My client is not charged with killing anybody," said Pride. "And the inference would be that she killed the child, the child's body was in the back of the car and the bloodstains came from the body."

The court also heard testimony from several witnesses during Monday's hearing. One Columbia police officer recalled his initial encounter with Jennings after a December 23 car wreck in Columbia. Both Jennings and her son Amir had been reported missing weeks before that wreck.

"She told me she didn't have a child," said officer Chris Miller. "I asked her again where her son was for a second time and she gave an address on Ridgecrest Lane and stated he was with a family member."

Miller testified he did not know where that address was.

Investigators have said since the early days of the investigation that Zinah Jennings has been uncooperative and has given conflicting stories about where her little boy is. Her attorney has argued she has the absolute right to remain silent.

The case has sparked intense interest from the community since Amir's disappearance. Community vigils have been held and a Facebook page set up where the general public keeps the case alive.

However, it has not brought investigators any closer to finding the toddler as a mother who has been deemed mentally ill remains silent about where the boy is.

Jennings is due back in court Tuesday morning when more evidence is expected to be presented.

Her trial on the unlawful conduct toward a child charge is set for August 27. Judge Knox McMahon said Monday that he plans to call an extensive pool of possible jurors in the case due to the fact that it has received such intense media coverage.