Mom sentenced to five years probation for spanking son

Though Jessica Conaway will not face jail time for bruising her then 5-year-old son by spanking him with a belt, she will not be allowed to parent using corporal punishment in the future, a judge said Wednesday.

Muscogee County Superior Court Judge William Rumer sentenced Conaway, 28, to five years of probation for felony child cruelty and misdemeanor battery during Wednesday's hearing. Conaway was found guilty by a jury made up of two men and eight women Jan. 16 after her ex-husband contacted police in May 2011 about bruises and welts on their son's buttocks, legs, abdomen, lower back and arms.

Born June 4, 2005, the boy is now 7 years old. His parents divorced in 2009 after marrying in 2003. Conaway retained custody of the child until her ex-husband reported the bruises.

During the sentence hearing, defense attorney Moffett Flournoy fought for Conaway to be sentenced for one charge, arguing that the battery and child cruelty charges were punishing Conaway twice for the same offense and that the jury's decision was confusing.

He also repeated his argument that Conaway did not intend to bruise the boy, but he had squirmed and twisted and would not hold still for the mother, then six-months' pregnant. The child's desire to be around his mother was proof that no "excessive pain" had been suffered, he said.

Flournoy also said Conaway had not resorted to physical punishment in more than a year and was disciplining her son because he was facing troubles at school after kicking a teacher's aide the week before the spanking. Two days later, Conaway saw him striking another child and called him into the apartment where she struck him five to 10 times. The punishment came at the end of two years filled with behavioral problems, Flournoy said.

"She had every reason to punish her child," Flournoy said. "It just got out of hand."

However, assistant district attorney LaRae Moore, who previously sought jail time for Conaway, countered that some crimes are committed alongside larger crimes, and that the battery charge fell into that case because of the child cruelty charge. Moore sought probation, supervised visitation and parenting classes for Conaway, saying the mother had not shown remorse for her actions.

"To me, this issue is being able to recognize when your conduct hurts a child. Not just for this case, but for the future -- this child's future," Moore said. "The issue is not whether you can discipline your child, but whether you can to this extent and degree. You cannot injure your child and beat them near to death."

Toward the end of the hearing, Flournoy called on Conaway's mother for a statement. She said her daughter displayed no malice and that the spanking was a single incident.

The argument did not sway Rumer, who stipulated that Conaway was not to use corporal punishment on her son or any existing or future children that she has.

Conaway must also complete a parenting class and may have visits to her son supervised under court order, Rumer said.