Manslaughter Charges in Case of South Carolina Boy Hugged to Death

South Carolina

Over one year after the death of the South Carolina 14-month-old who was hugged so hard that he died, the family friend who allegedly hugged the boy has been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Orangeburg County Sheriff LeRoy Ravenell announced the arrest on Wednesday, but did not disclose why it took over a year for charges to be filed in the case. A sheriff’s spokeswoman has stated via email that no further information on the delay would be released.

Jaylen Harris was killed on June 27, 2013, while being watched in his home on Maxwell Place in Orangeburg by Robert Christian Kemp of Columbia, South Carolina. Kemp, 26, was taken into custody on Tuesday and released on Wednesday after posting bond of $10,000.00.

Kemp is alleged to have killed the toddler when he gave Jaylen a “bear hug,” in which the toddler was squeezed tightly enough to prevent him from breathing. According to Kemp, he was playing with Jaylen when the boy began to rub his eyes. Believing the toddler to be tired, Kemp laid him on his back with a bottle in his crib. Kemp then spent time in the kitchen cleaning up when he became aware that he had not heard any noise from Jaylen in some time. When he went into the boy’s room to check on him, he found Jaylen unconscious on his stomach in the crib with his hands formed into fists. Emergency services were called to the home for a report of an “unresponsive child.” According to the Orangeburg, South Carolina, police report, someone at the home (whose name was blacked out on the police report) administered CPR, which did not provoke a response from the toddler. The cause of Jaylen’s death was asphyxiation.

After the death of Jaylen, his family began a campaign on in which they asked for donations to Jaylen’s funeral fund.  Four days prior to the funeral, the campaign online was ceased. At the time, Jaylen’s death was attributed by family to natural causes. A search for “Jaylen Harris” on yielded no results on Wednesday. The site operates as a fundraising site onto which profiles and photos of those who require financial assistance with medical issues or other emergent life issues can be posted by loved ones. Each fundraising post can be shared via social media and updated when appropriate. Not only can visitors donate funds to help those on the site, but supportive messages can also be posted.

If Kemp if found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, he may have to serve up to five years behind bars. The involuntary manslaughter charge indicates that a human being was killed without malice aforethought, either express or implied. Malice aforethought is defined as the intention to kill or cause serious harm to another. Due to the absence of intention, it is distinguished from voluntary manslaughter.

There was no comment available from Kemp or from Jaylen’s mother. A woman identifying herself as the mother of Kemp answered a phone call and agreed to relay a message to her son, but no return call by Kemp was received. Jaylen’s mother did not return a message that was left for her in an attempt to determine her reaction to South Carolina authorities now charging Kemp with manslaughter for the death of her son.

By Jennifer Pfalz

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