Man pleads guilty to slapping crying boy on Delta flight

Story highlights

  • Joe Rickey Hundley pleaded guilty to assault in federal court, his attorney says
  • He was accused of slapping a crying 19-month-old boy on a Minneapolis-to-Atlanta flight
  • Hundley had learned the day before that his own son was in a coma, the court heard
  • He is due to be sentenced on January 6, his attorney says

An airline passenger accused of slapping the toddler seated next to him on a Minneapolis-to-Atlanta flight in February pleaded guilty to assault Wednesday in federal court.

Joe Rickey Hundley, 61, will be sentenced on January 6, according to his attorney, Marcia Shein.

Hundley was seated next to Jessica Bennett and her 19-month-old son in row 28 when Delta Flight 721 began its descent into Atlanta.

When the baby began to cry, Hundley allegedly told Bennett to "shut that (N-word) baby up," according to an FBI affidavit.

"(He) then turned around and slapped (the child) in the face with an open hand, which caused (him) to scream even louder," the affidavit continued. The boy suffered a scratch below his right eye.

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Shein said in a February statement that her client was in distress and grieving during the flight after learning the day before that his son was in a coma, after overdosing on insulin.

Hundley was headed to Atlanta to decide whether or not to take his son off life support. He died the day after the flight.

Shein said 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."

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