Zinah Jennings' lawyer asks judge to dismiss case against S.C. mother of missing toddler

Zinah Jenning's son Amir has been missing for two months
Undated photo of Zinah Jennings, whose son Amir has been missing since late last year

(CBS/AP) COLUMBIA, S.C. - The attorney for South Carolina mother Zinah Jennings asked a judge to throw out the case against her on Thursday, saying prosecutors don't have enough evidence and are unjustifiably holding Jennings only because she won't tell them where her missing toddler is.

Hempshill Pride II told Judge G. Thomas Cooper at a hearing that prosecutors don't have enough evidence to prove their case of  unlawful conduct toward a child against Jennings. Her toddler Amir was last seen around Thanksgiving when he was 18 months old.

"You can't weigh the rights of a defendant against the rights of a missing child," Pride said in court. "The entire holding of Zinah Jennings in this case is a mere pretext."

Jennings' mother reported her missing in December, telling police she thought her daughter and grandson were in Atlanta but her daughter was giving evasive answers when asked about Amir.

Police said when they spoke to Jennings after a Christmas Eve car wreck, she first told them she had no children, and that she then said her son was with relatives and friends in cities from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C., causing investigators to chase her stories in several states. They arrested Jennings after several dead ends.

Jennings was charged last month with unlawful conduct toward a child. But Pride said Thursday that prosecutors don't have enough information in their indictment, such as specific allegations about how Jennings had allegedly harmed her child.

Pride also told detailed interrogation tactics police used to elicit information from the mother about her son, including using Jenning's half-sister, a minister and even the love of a dog. During all of these conversations, Jennings has consistently refused to discuss Amir's whereabouts, saying only that he is safe.

"The case should be dismissed," Pride said. "You don't hold people in order to make someone tell you where a child is."

Cooper gave prosecutors until Monday to make their argument to keep the charge against Jennings. On Thursday, prosecutor Dolly Justice Garfield said that she felt confident in the case.

"We are charging her with abandoning the child," Garfield said. "It would be a travesty to abandon the indictment..."

The judge also ordered Jennings to be evaluated to see if she is competent to stand trial. A previous evaluation revealed that Jennings has schizophrenia. She was prescribed Risperdal to the 23-year-old mother who is currently pregnant. Pride said he fears the drug is harmful to the unborn baby, due in August.

Complete coverage of Zinah Jennings on Crimesider