The man accused of slapping a small child and using a racial slur has pled not guilty to assault charges on Wednesday. Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, was charged after allegedly slapping the child while on board a flight in February, but maintains that he was under severe emotional and psychological distress.
Hundley was on the flight to Atlanta, Ga. in order to help make the decision whether to take his own son off of life support. He had been notified that the boy had overdosed on insulin and was expected to be "in a coma for life," his attorney Marcia Shein told Reuters.
"On the flight, he was in distress, upset and grieving," Shein added, which may explain why the family of the child thought he was drunk and acting irrationally. Hundley's son died the very next day after being removed from life support.
Jessica Bennett, the child's mother, told ABC News that she was sitting alongside Hundley when her son, Jonah, began to cry.
"Jonah starts crying because he's feeling the pressure in his ears," she explained. Hundley then allegedly told her to "shut that n----- baby up."
"I said, 'What did you just say?' And he was so drunk that he fell onto my face, and his mouth moved over to my ear and he said it, just directly into my ear," Bennett said. Then the incident turned physical as Hundley allegedly smacked Jonah in the face.
"When I had looked at Jonah's face, he had, his eye was swollen … and it was bleeding. I was just scared to death," she said.
Passengers intervened and separated the two, and several witnesses verified Bennett's story. Hundley will now go on trial for his actions, which cost him his job. The company he worked at issued a statement calling Hundley's actions "offensive and disturbing."
He "has paid a terrible price for his hurtful words," Shein said.
A trial date has not yet been set.