CARMEL — A Carmel woman accused of starving her teen son will appear before a Hancock County judge after Hamilton County officials decided she couldn’t get a fair trial before a jury in her hometown.
Brandee Johnson, 44, faces three counts of child neglect that were filed against her in Hamilton County in August 2016. Carmel police identified the victims as Johnson’s six children, according to a news release posted on the police department’s website at the time of Johnson’s arrest.
Johnson’s 14-year-old son ran away from home in August 2016. After he was found by police, he told them he’d left because of abuse he’d suffered at his parents’ hands, saying he was often went without food and was beaten regularly, according to court documents.
The boy was examined at an Indianapolis hospital, where doctors found he weighed 72 pounds at 5 feet tall, court documents state. He had injuries all over his body, including bruising to his ribs and chest, court documents state.
The boy’s five siblings were subsequently interviewed as part of the investigation, police said. At least one other child was hospitalized after being found to be malnourished and with physical injuries consistent with abuse, police said. All six were removed from Johnson’s care, police said.
The case caught the attention of media outlets in Indianapolis, and, in October, Johnson asked the judge to move her case outside of Hamilton County, citing concerns that she wouldn’t have a fair shake before a jury there.
Defendants can seek a change of venue when they believe residents, who would serve as jurors, have been unfairly influenced by coverage of their case, according to state law. They must prove their neighbors would be biased and would not be able to weigh evidence in the case impartially.
Johnson filed such a request with a judge in Hamilton County — days after her husband accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors, records show.
Johnson’s husband, Quantae Johnson, Sr., 42, of Carmel, was also charged in the case. He has since pleaded guilty and is serving a 6-year sentences, records show.
Now, a panel of Hancock County residents could hear Brandee Johnson’s case if it goes to trial. The woman made her first appearance in a local court this week, telling Hancock County Superior Court 1 Judge Terry Snow that she was not guilty of the charges she faced.
Johnson will represent herself in the proceedings as she did in Hamilton County. A team of Hamilton County prosecutors will still be tasked with presenting the state’s evidence.
Johnson’s son ran away from home and spent the night huddled under bushes and boxes outside of a Carmel Kroger as a bad thunderstorm passed through the area, the child told police, according to court documents.
It wasn’t the first time he’d run away, the boy told officers: he was picked up by police a month after his parents reported him missing, and his father punched him in the face for “being disloyal to the family,” court documents state.
He told police his mother “told him she wishes he were dead and that she wished he died at birth,” court documents state.
The boy wouldn’t tell police much more about where his injuries came from, but doctors at Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis determined he suffered from undernourishment and had injuries to his trunk and back that were consistent with child abuse, according to court documents.
Johnson and her husband were interviewed by police and denied abusing their children.
Brandee Johnson told investigators her son was a problem child who was “ruining their lives,” court documents state. She said the boy had privileges taken away from him only when he was in trouble.
She said he was given plenty to eat, but sometimes stole food from the kitchen pantry and trash can, which resulted in punishment.
To keep the boy from running away, Johnson said she and her husband forced him to only wear underwear when he was at home, court documents state.
Johnson faces one Level 5 felony count of neglect of a dependent and two Level 6 felony counts of neglect of a dependent.
Johnson is expected back in court in March.