Justin Polk was only two-years-old when he was found unconscious at a motel in Orlando, Florida, on June 2 of last year. Blood was oozing from his nose and he was unresponsive. His mom, 23-year-old Merissa Anderson, was at work and Justin, along with Anderson’s other two kids, were in the room where the family lived at the Countryside Inn and Suites motel.
Watching the kids at the time was Anderson’s 27-year-old boyfriend, Jonathan Charapata (pictured below).
The other two children also had serious injuries, including broken ribs, bruising to their faces and bodies — and even bite marks. But neither was as seriously injured as Justin.
The toddler was rushed to Florida Hospital South, but he died there of his injuries — which according to police included multiple blunt force injuries, plus what they called “evidence of strangulation.” They ruled the killing a homicide.
But more than a year later, neither Charapata nor Anderson has been charged with the murder of little Justin Polk, who was Anderson’s child from a previous relationship with a man named Justin Polk, Sr.
On Tuesday, however, The Orlando Sentinel newspaper reported that the mom had pleaded no contest on August 19 to a charge of child neglect — but the charge was not related to the murder of little Justin.
Prosecutors would not elaborate on the charge, the Sentinel reported, but records uncovered by the paper showed that aggravated child abuse, child abuse, and other child neglect charges were either dropped, or for some reason not included in Anderson’s plea.
Charapata also pleaded no contest to similar charges on August 27, and was sentenced to five years behind bars. Anderson, however, avoided prison and will serve eight years of supervised probation, during which she is prohibited from any contact with children under 18, except for her own kids.
According to a report last year by WFTV in Florida, investigators had checked into Anderson and her family three times before Justin’s death. At the time, the family was living in a mobile home, which investigators described as “disgusting.”
But they found no evidence of child abuse at the time, according to the WFTV report.
Just days before Justin Polk was found unconscious from his horrific injuries, Anderson’s employers received a panicked call from the mom, who told her boss that she and her children were hiding in a closet because Charapata had assaulted her and the kids, detectives wrote in a police report. Police had no record that Anderson called 911 about the incident, however.
The mom’s co-workers told investigators about the terrifying phone call and numerous other incidents of domestic violence in her home — but that was after the death of little Justin Polk.
[Images: Orlando County Jail, WESH-TV Screen Grab]