Skip to main content

Man accused of slapping crying boy on Delta flight pleads not guilty

From Nick Valencia, CNN
updated 5:06 PM EDT, Wed March 20, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Joe Rickey Hundley was distraught over his gravely ill son during the flight, his attorney says
  • NEW: Attorney acknowledges that her client used an epithet but denies he hit the child
  • He entered a plea of not guilty to a charge of assaulting a minor
  • Hundley is accused of slapping a crying 19-month-old on a Delta flight in February

Atlanta (CNN) -- An Idaho man accused of slapping a crying 19-month-old boy on a Delta flight pleaded not guilty in federal court Wednesday in Atlanta.

Joe Rickey Hundley is charged with assaulting a minor in connection with the incident last month. Accompanied by his attorney outside the courthouse, Hundley appeared solemn and looked toward the ground.

Before Hundley's court appearance, his attorney, Marcia Shein, said that he would be entering a plea of not guilty.

Man accused of slapping crying boy on Delta flight is out of a job

Stranger accused of slapping baby
Man accused of slapping toddler on plane

After the hearing, Shein issued a statement on Hundley's behalf, saying that the day before the flight on February 8, her client had learned that his son had overdosed on insulin and was in a coma on life support.

"Mr. Hundley had been up for 24 hours over this tragic news and was heading to Atlanta to decide, with his son's mother, if they should take him off life support as he had no brain activity. On the flight he was in distress, upset and grieving," Shein said. His son died the next day, she said.

According to court documents, the boy's mother, Jessica Bennett, and her son were seated in Row 28, Seat B on Delta Flight 721, which originated in Minneapolis.

She spent part of the flight in the rear of the plane to get away from Hundley, who she said smelled like alcohol and was slurring his speech, according to John Thompson, attorney for the child's family. In her statement Wednesday, Shein did not address whether Hundley was drunk.

As the plane began its descent into Atlanta, the boy began to cry because of the altitude change, and his mother tried to soothe him.

Hundley, who was seated next to the mother and son, allegedly told her to "shut that (N-word) baby up."

Hundley then turned around and slapped the child in the face with an open hand, which caused him to scream even louder, an FBI affidavit said.

The boy suffered a scratch below his right eye.

In her statement Wednesday, Shein acknowledged that Hundley "said something none should say even in their darkest moments" when the boy began crying and that he "deeply regrets saying those words." But she said that Hundley did not "strike the child and believes what happened to Mrs. Bennett's child was an accident."

Hundley "had paid a terrible price for his hurtful words but asks only that people understand that he was not doing well that night and spoke hurtful words he would have not otherwise have said," Shein said.

Will the slap heard 'round the country have lasting effects?

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
With so many new attractions on the way, the next few years are going to be a roller coaster ride.
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Thomas Malthus famously predicted that rising populations would create a food crunch: Could this be true?
updated 6:33 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
From "Sick Man of Europe" to the world's fourth largest economy.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT