A Kentucky man is charged with murder and other charges after police say he kidnapped a woman and her 5-year-old son, later pushing the mother off a cliff and beating the young boy to death.
Lonnie Jay Belt, 41, of McKee, is charged with murder, two counts of kidnapping, first-degree assault and tampering with physical evidence, according to jail records. He remained in the Jackson County Detention Center Wednesday in lieu of $500,000 cash bail.
Belt was arrested Saturday and charged Monday after his adult victim, Jessica Durham, named him as the man who abducted her and her son, James Spoonamore, on Friday, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader. Durham suffered multiple injuries, including a shattered pelvis and internal bleeding, but survived her fall from the 80-foot cliff.
The young mother was found at the bottom of the cliff Saturday, the day after she told police that Belt, a family acquaintance, came to her home and asked for help waking her husband. Court documents obtained by People magazine indicated that Belt claimed Durham’s husband was passed out at Belt’s house.
Durham and her son accompanied Belt to his house, where the abduction took place, People reported.
Her sister, Mary Batson, told the Herald-Leader that when Durham and Belt went into the house, he struck her on the head from behind.
"He got mad because she didn’t get knocked out with the first hit, so he hit her two or three more times," Batson told the newspaper. "She would never knock out."
The Herald-Leader reported that Belt blindfolded Durham and tied her hands together before putting her in the car with her son. He drove them into the Daniel Boone National Forest, where he parked near the cliff.
When Durham tried to fight him, he pushed her off the cliff, according to Kentucky State Police officials. She was found by hikers the next morning.
Durham told investigators she last saw her son with Belt as he pushed her off the cliff.
Multiple agencies began looking for James, on foot, on horseback, via helicopter and using K-9 units, troopers said.
At the same time, the search began for Belt, who was taken into custody at his home Saturday afternoon.
The Herald-Leader reported that Belt admitted beating Durham and taking her to the cliff in an argument over money. Though he told police James was with his mother at the cliff, he refused to say where the missing boy was.
Belt also admitted painting over some of Durham’s blood in his home, the newspaper reported.
More than 200 searchers continued looking for James, whose body was found Monday less than a mile from where his mother was rescued, troopers said.
The boy’s cause of death was not released, but the court records obtained by People indicated that Belt told police he hit James in the head several times with a metal object.
Batson said she does not understand why Belt did what he did.
"Jessie just stays to herself," Batson told the Herald-Leader. "She volunteers at the library and was looking for work. She is quiet and doesn’t put her business out there."
Batson said James turned 5 last month and had just started school.
"He’s a lovable kid all around," she said. "You can tell he’s momma’s boy."
Kentucky state police Commissioner Rick Sanders said law enforcement officials were taking the boy’s death hard.
"It’s a tragic day for all of us," Sanders told the newspaper. "It’s horrible anytime you have a death. But when you have the death of a young child, it hurts even more."