By DAILY MAIL REPORTER PUBLISHED: 00:00 EST, 20 February 2013 | UPDATED: 05:22 EST, 21 March 2013
- Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, is accused of racially abusing, then striking the 19-month-old infant on a flight to Atlanta
- An attorney Hundley says he was ‘upset and grieving’ while on his way to remove his son from life support during that February flight
- Hundley’s son died the next day after falling into a ‘coma for life’
- The mother, 33-year-old Jessica Bennett, believes Hundley was intoxicated
- Says Hundley used a racial slur against her baby before giving child a swollen eye
A former Idaho executive accused of slapping a baby on an airplane was on his way to take his son off life support and was ‘upset and grieving’ at the time of the incident, his attorney has revealed. Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, of Hayden, pleaded not guilty to federal assault charges on Wednesday after allegedly striking the 19-month-old boy in the face last February, court documents filed in Atlanta show. Hundley’s lawyer said he had been traveling to Atlanta to decide whether to remove his son from life support after being told just 24 hours earlier that he had overdosed on insulin.
Attack: Joe Rickey Hundley, 60, is accused of first racially abusing, then physically assaulting this 19-month old boy, Jonah Bennett, after he started crying on a flight
Hundley’s son was ‘in a coma for life,’ attorney Marcia Shein said in a statement. ‘On the flight, he was in distress, upset and grieving,’ she said. The boy’s mother, Jessica Bennett of Minneapolis who is white, was seated with her adopted black son, Jonah, when she says Hundley struck her child after using a racial slur directed at them. ‘Shut that n****r baby up,’ he allegedly told the mother while their Delta Airlines flight was descending from Minneapolis into Atlanta. Shein said he did use a racial slur when the child started crying because of ear pressure, but she denied that Hundley struck the boy. In media interviews, the child’s mother has said Hundley was belligerent and seemed intoxicated during the flight. ‘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 directly into my ear,’ She told ABC News. It was then she said that Hundley lifted and swung his hand at her child.
‘When I looked at Jonah’s face, his eye was swollen… and it was bleeding. I was just scared to death,’ she said. She says Jonah was traumatized by the incident, and has become ‘apprehensive to strangers’ since. Hundley was fired from his executive position at AGC Aerospace & Defense after the alleged slapping incident, his attorney said. The Oklahoma City-based military technology company issued a statement describing the executive’s behavior as ‘offensive and disturbing.’ Hundley’s son, whose age was not given, died the day after the flight, Shein said.
Hundley ‘has paid a terrible price for his hurtful words,’ his lawyer said. The assault charge carries a $100,000 fine and a maximum penalty of a year in jail. The task of proving his innocence may be difficult for Hundley, according to Bennett family attorney John Thompson, who told ABC that there were numerous witnesses who saw him strike Jonah – including a federal air marshal. The 60-year-old previously also denied using racial language. He claims that he did ‘ask the mother to quiet the child.’ Hundley previously said he was traveling to Atlanta to visit a hospitalized relative, described his emotional state as ‘distraught’ and that he had one alcoholic drink on the aircraft. However, Bennett told The Smoking Gun that she believed Hundley was intoxicated. The mother said that he ‘reeked of alcohol’, was ‘stumbling around wasted’ and he consumed several double vodkas during the flight. Bennett says Hundley told her that Jonah was too big to be a ‘lap baby.’ Agent Cheney added that Bennett received help from other passengers on the Delta flight. Todd Wooten, who was seated 12 rows ahead, told authorities that he ‘heard derogatory language coming from the rear of the aircraft’ and went to see what was going on. ‘According to Mr. Wooten,’ Cheney wrote, ‘he saw Joe Rickey Hundley strike’ the child. Hundley pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor assault in a Virginia court in 2007 after he was arrested following a quarrel with his girlfriend. He was first charged with simple assault, carrying a concealed weapon, and public intoxication. Hundley told The Smoking Gun that the weapon he was allegedly carrying was a corkscrew.