Jonathan James was a good boy. How do I know this? He was 10-years-old. No 10-year-old boy deserves anything other than a home with loving parents who teach him how to become a healthy adult.
Typically, Jonathan James lived with his mother but during the summer of 2011 he was spending a month in Dallas, Texas with his father and stepmother, Michael Ray James and Tina Alberson. Jonathan tried to get out of visiting his father. Before he left, he called his grandmother and asked if he could stay with her instead of his dad, pleading “I know I’m going to be in trouble while I’m there because I always am.”
On July 20, 2011, Jonathan’s father and stepmother wanted to punish him for wetting the bed, an involuntary action which probably made the parents angry because parents have to clean up after the children they choose to have. Jonathan’s parents told him he was not allowed to drink and withheld water from him for five days. Common wisdom is that humans cannot survive without water longer than three days. The boy was made to stand on an “X” in his humid kitchen in 100-degree Texas heat. He was fed peanut butter sandwiches he struggled to ingest as his body became critically dehydrated.
The 10-year-old was also made to hold a sack of potatoes over his head. Dallas Deputy Police Chief Craig Miller says that by that time the boy was unable to stand on his own, “He got to the point where he couldn’t function; he couldn’t get up off the ground.” Eventually, Jonathan’s twin brother ran to his neighbor’s house asking for someone to give his brother CPR or call 911. Jonathan was taken to the hospital but was too late. Jonathan James died of forced dehydration on July 25, 2011.
Jonathan’s twin brother Joseph struggled with wanting to help his twin sooner, but feared for his own safety, “I couldn’t do nothing about it. Because if I said something, I would end up getting in trouble too.” Joseph says that even when Jonathan complied with his parent’s punishments, he still wasn’t allowed water. There was also a 12-year-old stepbrother in the home who was unharmed by this event.
At a certain point, it’s becomes clear that some parents are less motivated by teaching their children and more motivated by revenge and having an outlet for their own anger. This point is usually pretty early on as we know there’s almost no strategy less effective at behavior change than punishment. This is especially true when using physical violence as punishment.
Michael Ray James and Tina Alberson were charged with “causing serious bodily injury” to a child. Police say Jonathan would have displayed “noticeable symptoms” during the five days his parents were withholding water. An especially chilling note about this case is that when police went to Ray and Tina’s house to arrest them, Tina Alberson stopped and took care to set out water for the family dog. She also phoned a friend to arrange for the dog’s care while she was in jail.
Michael Ray James claimed in his trial that he wasn’t responsible for his son’s five day torture in his own house because he is legally blind. His wife had a previous felony for assault with a deadly weapon, so her sentencing was harsher. She got 85 years in prison, he got 20. Of the sentencing, Jonathan and Joseph’s mother, Krista Bishop, said “we got what we needed”.
Prior to his visit with his father and stepmother, Jonathan James was a healthy 10-year-old boy. He loved Cub Scouts, swimming, riding his bike and was close with his twin brother Joseph.