Columbia attorney retained to represent SC mother

Published: Jan. 17, 2012 at 7:15 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2012 at 7:18 PM EST
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Zinah Jennings (Source: Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center)
Zinah Jennings (Source: Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center)

Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A notable Columbia criminal defense attorney said Tuesday he is now representing the South Carolina mother of a toddler who has been missing since Thanksgiving.

Hemphill Pride II told The Associated Press that he was hired Monday to represent Zinah Jennings on a charge of unlawful conduct toward a child. Pride said he had met with his client in a Columbia psychiatric hospital where she is being evaluated but was still waiting on Jennings' previous attorney to send over the case file.

Jennings has been in jail since late December, when Columbia police say they arrested her for lying about the whereabouts of her son.

Her mother had reported Jennings missing several weeks earlier, telling police she thought her daughter and grandson were in Atlanta but that she was receiving evasive answers when she asked about the boy, Amir.

Speaking to police after a Christmas Eve car wreck, Jennings first said she didn't have children and then said her son was with relatives and friends in cities from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C.

Investigators say they chased down Jennings' stories but met with several dead ends before arresting the mother.

Authorities said they have stepped up their efforts to find the boy and are hoping a tip line and $10,000 reward will yield information. State police are analyzing stains on blankets and clothes removed from Jennings' car to see if they are blood, and police said Tuesday they were still working leads but had no updates on the case.

Jennings was arrested on prostitution and drug charges in Georgia shortly before her son disappeared. Jennings was arrested by East Point, Ga., police in November, accused of offering sex to an undercover officer.

Jennings had been staying with a half-sister, Denise Jennings, in the Atlanta area for three weeks before her Nov. 9 arrest. East Point is just south of Atlanta.

On the day Zinah Jennings was arrested, her half-sister reported her missing, telling police that she had left her home and suffered from "schizophrenic tendencies" that had not been diagnosed.

The grandmother, Jocelyn Jennings Nelson, has said her headstrong daughter frequently traveled to visit relatives and friends in the Carolinas and Georgia but had been depressed since the birth of her son. Nelson said she reported Jennings and the boy missing last month after becoming concerned during their visit to Atlanta.

"I was assured by both her sister and her that, 'Everything is fine.'" Nelson said.

Pride represented former South Carolina standout Moe Thompson, who pleaded guilty in 2005 to attempted first-degree burglary and petit larceny on allegations he and a teammate took TVs and a DVD player they thought belonged to other football players. Thompson was sentenced to 20 years, suspended to five years probation.

Pride was also an initial attorney for the "3 Hebrew Boys," a trio of men charged with dozens of federal fraud counts and subsequently ordered to repay $82 million in restitution to thousands of investors.

Related stories:

Missing toddler's father: I don't have him

Zinah Jennings appears in court, grandmother hopes missing boy found alive

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