Woman dressed 5-month-old grandson for bed and fed him and son put him in crib before she left, she said
The mother of James Sargent said her last memory was of a happy, laughing Benjamin the day she dropped him off at his parents’ house, a week before he was found dead due to starvation.
Rose Sargent dropped off her 5-month-old grandson on Feb. 4. James Sargernt, the boy’s father, was there. Tracy Hermann, the boy’s mother, wasn’t. Rose Sargent didn’t remember anything unusual, she said Friday.
"He was not left in his car seat," the distraught grandmother said. "When I left that house, he did not have a snowsuit on him. I got that for him when we were out. I took him out shopping and we went out to eat.
"I left at 9:30 p.m. that night. I got him ready for bed, changed his diaper, put some ointment on his bottom and gave him a bottle. He wanted to be rocked so I rocked him, gave him some more bottle and then his dad put him into the crib without the car seat, and covered him up with a blanket. Then I left because I had to go home and get to sleep because I work third shift."
Her account flies in the face of what prosecutors allege happened to the infant. Peoria County State’s Attorney Kevin Lyons has charged James Sargent and Herman with first-degree murder and indicated he could seek the death penalty for what they failed to do for Benjamin.
The couple are accused of allowing Benjamin to go without food or water for eight days while leaving him in a car seat. The baby was left in a snowsuit he was wearing when dropped off at the home, 3012 W. Proctor, reports said.
On Friday, a white teddy bear and a collection of bright blue flowers were tied to the front gate of the white chain-link fence surrounding the home. No one answered the door at the house or at the unattached garage where someone was alleged to be living at the time of Benjamin’s death.
Neighbors said they didn’t know the couple, who apparently moved into the house in October. One neighbor said she wasn’t aware children lived there until she read about Benjamin’s death in the newspaper.
The couple’s attorney, Thomas Penn Jr., did not challenge a motion Friday by Lyons to have them held without bond pending trial. Hermann’s family members declined comment.
Court records indicate Hermann was divorced last year from the man with whom she had her first child, a girl who turned 4 on Friday. That child was removed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services in a court filing earlier this week.
That petition, filed by Lyons’ office, offers some insight into Hermann. The petition, which has not yet been proven, claims Hermann told authorities she didn’t want Benjamin and wanted to give him up for adoption. It goes on to state that she had no part in the feeding, bathing or changing diapers of the infant.
Rose Sargent said her son told her last month Hermann wanted to put the child up for adoption. Rose Sargent was unable to care for him because of health constraints. That was the last she heard about adoption, she said Friday night.
She’s still in shock about Benjamin’s death. Her last memory is of a happy, laughing child who would always reach for her.
But she doesn’t know what to think after hearing reports. The house, she said, wasn’t in the complete and utter state of disarray that prosecutors allege, with spoiled food laying about and clogged-up toilets.
"Yes, there were a few things out but when I went over there the other day to pick up the car, the house did not look like that on the fourth. I don’t know what happened," she said.
Rose Sargent said she asked about Benjamin from the time she dropped him off until his death. Her son would tell her the diaper rash was getting better. But she didn’t go to the house to see him, she said, softly and with a hint of regret.
Lyons has said there were no obvious signs of mental illness or drug use. Rose Sargent said she didn’t know about drugs but stated James Sargent suffered in the past from depression, ADHD, anxiety and bipolar disorders.
On James Sargent’s MySpace page, he touts himself as a martial artist who loves swords and the Lord of the Rings yet is the "world’s biggest cuddle bug." That, though, seems incompatible with an allegation in the juvenile petition to remove the girl from Hermann’s custody.
In that petition, prosecutors allege the couple’s pit bulls tried to attack a 2-year-old girl last April. When a woman went to protect the child, James Sargent allegedly told the woman that he would "cut her head off." Police were called and found a large sword and knife collection in his house as well as some drug paraphernalia. He was arrested for that and sentenced to probation a few months later.
During that incident, Hermann was alleged to have been at James Sargent’s side and chose to remain with him even after police arrived.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at (309) 686-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Leslie Fark contributed to this story.