Friday, February 6, 2004

Grieving county mourns infant

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Wherever Butler County Chief Deputy Rick Jones went on Thursday, he found outrage and sorrow in the wake of an arson that killed a Madison Township infant.

"Some people were almost in tears as they talked about it," Jones said Thursday.

Justin A. Johnson Jr., 7 months old, died early Wednesday in a fire that his mother, Aimee Leonard, is accused of setting.

On Thursday, the Ohio Fire Marshal's Office ruled the fire an arson. The county coroner ruled the baby's death a homicide.

"The big question right now is: Did the mother do this on purpose and intend to kill that child?" Jones said. "If we determine she intended to do this, then we're looking at (a) murder (charge)."

Leonard, 29, was in the Middletown city jail on charges of involuntary manslaughter and child endangering - charges authorities could change depending on results of the ongoing investigation, Jones said.

Authorities say that Leonard argued with Justin's father on the telephone just before the fire at her trailer in the Catalina Manufactured Home Community in Madison Township, just outside Middletown.

Police allege that, in anger, Leonard set an article of clothing on fire and threw it on the kitchen floor.

Leonard left Justin in the trailer when she went to a neighbor's house seeking help, police have said. Investigators said they were trying to figure out why she left the child. It remained unclear if fire blocked Leonard's path to Justin, if she panicked or if she intentionally left him behind.

More details could be released at a preliminary hearing Feb. 13.

The child's father, Justin Johnson Sr., 30, of Middletown, has said he was working to persuade a court to remove the child from Leonard's custody.


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