Zinah Jennings guilty of unlawful conduct toward a child

Jennings' son, Amir, was 18 months old when he was last seen in November.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH / AP) -- A South Carolina mother was convicted Friday of breaking the law by refusing to tell authorities where her missing toddler son has gone and was sentenced to the maximum of 10 years in prison.

Zinah Jennings, 23, showed no emotion as the verdict of guilty of unlawful conduct was read in court. The jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about 2 1/2 hours before issuing its decision.

Jennings' attorney, Hemphill Pride, continued to ask for a mistrial after the verdict was read saying the jury rushed to a decision. The judge denied his request and said the jury was focused throughout the trial.

Eleven of the 12 jurors stayed in the courtroom to see the sentencing of Jennings.

Pride plead with the judge to take into consideration Zinah's mental evaluations before sentencing.

"Please don't give Zinah 10 years. She has no prior record," said Pride.

The judge considered the remarks of Pride and Jennings' mother, Jocelyn Jennings Nelson, before making a decision on sentencing Jennings, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Amir Jennings was 18 months old when he was last seen in November. Police say Jennings, who did not testify in her defense, lied about where the boy is. Jennings says she left the boy somewhere safe but would not give details.

Several witnesses for the prosecution testified that they saw Jennings kick Amir when he misbehaved or squeeze his hand when he wouldn't say "mama." Employees at the bank where the boy was captured on security video testified that Amir was often not in a car seat when his mother pulled up at a drive-through window.

Prosecutors also played audio from Jennings' lengthy interview with police after her arrest in late December. In it, the young mother cried as she said her son was safe but that she couldn't prove to authorities that he was alive.

"Prove to me your child is alive," police Sgt. Arthur Thomas says.

"I can't," Jennings replied.

Jennings gave birth to a second child, a daughter, last week.

Several friends characterized Jennings as overwhelmed by the stresses of parenting an active, energetic child. Christian Dickerson, a high school friend who lived with Jennings and her mother for a time, said that Jennings once told her she'd thought about selling or giving Amir away to allow some time for herself.

Jennings' mother sought to refute that testimony, portraying Dickerson as a bad influence on her child. Jocelyn Jennings Nelson also told the court she disagreed with her headstrong daughter on parenting styles but didn't believe she would ever harm her son.

"She didn't understand what her body was going through and the impact motherhood was having on her," Nelson told the judge. "At this point, Amir could be anywhere. ... I will never stop looking for him."

It was unclear exactly who would care for Jennings' baby girl, though her mother has said she'd be willing to do that. Judge Knox McMahon said that Jennings would get the needed medical care.

In pronouncing sentence, McMahon made it clear that his thoughts were with the boy.

"I also do not know where Amir Jennings is. ... I know where his blanket is. I know where his blood is," McMahon said. "There's one innocent person, one blameless person, one person that cannot fend for himself in the world we live in, and that's Amir Jennings."

McMahon also recommended that Jennings receive counseling and ruled that she be credited with the nine months she has already served in jail.

Prosecutors and Jennings' other family members opted not to speak with reporters. Her defense attorney said he would consult with Jennings and her family before considering filing an appeal.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)