Woman's Boyfriend Held in Baby's Beating Death

By Keith L. Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 2008

A Northwest man was ordered held without bond yesterday in connection with the beating death of his girlfriend's toddler son Sunday.

Jonathan M. Austin, 33, was charged with first-degree cruelty to children in the death of Ronjai Butler, who was 20 months old.

Magistrate Judge Diana Harris-Epps of the D.C. Superior Court set a preliminary hearing for Dec. 3 before Judge Herbert Dixon.

According to police, Austin was babysitting Ronjai and Ronjai's 2 1/2 -year-old sister. A person returning to the apartment noticed that there were "green spots" on the baby's face, upper legs and stomach and that he was "minimally" responsive, according to police. The witness tried to revive the baby by splashing cold water on his face, but he was unresponsive. The baby's sister told one witness that Austin had hit the boy. Ronjai was rushed to Howard University Hospital, where he died.

An autopsy by Medical Examiner Marie-Lydie Y. Pierre-Louis showed a skull fracture, a lacerated liver, kidneys and spleen, anal tearing and numerous contusions. Pierre-Louis said the death was caused by multiple blunt-impact trauma with contusions and lacerations to internal organs. She ruled it a homicide.

In 1994, Austin, the father of four children, was charged with simple assault and sentenced to 18 months of unsupervised probation. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to first-degree cruelty to children and spent seven years in prison until his release in 2006, according to court records. A source familiar with the case said a 6-month-old child Austin was caring for was burned with scalding water. He was on parole until 2014.

Austin was living with his girlfriend, the boy's mother, in her apartment in the 1200 block of North Capitol St. NW, according to court records.

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