Trial date set in starvation case

Published 12:48 am Monday, April 6, 2009

FOREST (AP) — The grandmother and aunt of a 4-year-old boy who starved to death last year are scheduled to stand trial in July.

Janice Mowdy, the child’s 43-year-old paternal grandmother, and his 22-year-old aunt, Stephanie Bell, were arraigned last week following indictments on capital murder charges in the Nov. 9 death of Austin Watkins.

The July 20 trial will be held in Scott County and a jury, which will be sequestered, will be picked from another county yet to be determined.

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Bell and Mowdy will remain in jail without bond.

The Mississippi Department of Human Services had removed Austin and his three siblings from their mother’s home in 2005. A judge granted Mowdy custody of the four children in 2007.

The child’s father, Kenneth Watkins, was in the Scott County Detention Center at the time of his son’s death for a probation violation.

Scott County Sheriff Mike Lee said earlier that an autopsy showed the boy weighed only 19 pounds at the time of his death. Lee said no one had alerted state officials or his department about any possible neglect before the boy’s death.

The sheriff said Austin’s 9-year-old sister and two brothers, ages 6 and 2, were in the trailer home in the rural community of Lena when authorities received the call about a small boy being unresponsive. Lee said Austin was dead when authorities arrived.

The boy’s siblings didn’t appear to have been malnourished or mistreated and they were taken into state custody, Lee said.