James Fortune, well-known gospel singer and choir director at the Higher Dimension Church in Houston, Texas, is being sued for $5 million for burning his stepson in an act of discipline 11 years ago.
In 2001, Fortune picked up his four-year-old stepson from school after the boy misbehaved by coloring on a table. Fortune then disciplined the boy for his bad behavior by hitting him with a switch and making him take a bath in scalding hot water.
The hot bath resulted in burns to 47 percent of the boy's body and Fortune's stepson was flown by life flight to the Shriner's Burn Hospital where he was forced to stay 63 days. Two years later, Fortune pleaded guilty in a courtroom and received six years of deferred adjudication after admitting to the felony injury of a child.
Now that the boy is 15, his biological father is suing Fortune and his wife, Cheryl Fortune, for $5 million. Cheryl Fortune, the biological mother of the burn victim, has been named in the civil lawsuit that claims the money would be used for plastic surgery procedures needed for the disfigured child.
James released a statement about the matter in a KRIV-TV news report, alleging that he thought his family had moved on from the situation.
"I recently became aware of a civil suit pending against my wife, Cheryl Fortune and I, for an incident that occurred in 2001 involving my stepson," Fortune said. "There was a criminal investigation and all matters were resolved in 2003. Since that time, my family and I, including my stepson, have continued with family traditions and always have a loving family environment."
Still, the gospel artist expressed shock at the civil lawsuit being filed against he and his wife.
"We are shocked by this lawsuit but understand people are free to use the court system to pursue claims, whether they contain merit or baseless matters," he said. "We are confident through this process, if it proceeds to a judge or jury, the ultimate decision maker will render a decision that is favorable to the circumstances and timing surrounding this situation."
Fortune maintained that he loved the stepson and asked for prayers during the difficult time.
"We believe in our American justice system and know it will work for us as it has for millions of other Americans," he said in the statement. "I love all my children, including my stepson, and I ask for your prayers as we deal with this matter privately. Thank you for your continued support for me, my family, and ministry."