Skip to main content

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

From Nick Valencia, CNN
March 20, 2013 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
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
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
It's a very big challenge but NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan thinks it can be done.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert explains how the most recent ISIS video differs from the other previous hostage execution videos.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
A Syrian cleric condemns ISIS and its execution of U.S. hostage Peter Kassig.
November 16, 2014 -- Updated 1720 GMT (0120 HKT)
Volunteer fighters in eastern Ukraine dig down just 800 meters from the front line.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
TV anchor wears the same suit for a year. Female colleague wears new outfit daily. Who gets criticized?
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
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