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California Mom Found Guilty of ‘Murder by Torture’ in Death of 5-Year-Old Son. Her Boyfriend Was Also Convicted of Murder.

Adam Caldwell and Jessica Prater

Adam Caldwell and Jessica Prater

A California mother and her boyfriend were both convicted of murdering the woman’s 5-year-old son after subjecting him to extensive physical and psychological abuse, prosecutors said.

A jury in Sacramento County on Friday found 37-year-old Jessica Prater guilty on one count each of first-degree murder by torture, child assault causing death, and child abuse with great bodily injury causing death for the 2016 killing of her son Zachary Prater-Stokes, according to a Monday press release from the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

Prater’s boyfriend, 45-year-old Adam Caldwell, was convicted by a jury on one count each of second-degree murder and child assault causing death on Oct. 8.

Prater and Zachary moved into Caldwell’s Northern California home in April 2016, according to prosecutors. Caldwell began to “punish and abuse Zachary, both psychologically and physically,” soon thereafter. The subsequent physical abuse continued to get increasingly “more frequent and more violent,” with Prater also taking part in the abuse.

Deputies with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department and medical personnel with Sacramento Metro Fire responded on June 2, 2016 to a 911 call about a child drowning at Caldwell’s home, located in the 1400 block of Pershing Avenue in Orangevale. Prater, who placed the call, told the dispatcher that her son “had swallowed water in the bathtub and was unresponsive.”

Upon arriving at the scene, first-responders with the fire department said they found Zachary “clothed and dry in a bedroom.” He was rushed to a local hospital, where doctors attempted life-saving procedures. But Zachary never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead a few hours later.

Hospital staff said that “medical evidence confirmed” that Zachary was the victim of “extensive abuse” before his death. An autopsy performed by the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office determined that the child’s cause of death was “blunt force injuries and water submersion.”

Authorities took Prater and Caldwell into custody on June 3, 2016 and have remained in custody at the Sacramento County Main Jail ever since.

One of Prater’s friends reportedly told investigators that they believed Prater was responsible for Zachary’s death based on a conversation they had just before the child’s murder.

“(She said) that they were spanking him with a belt and leaving marks because he was getting into their things,” Tiffany Guzman, who referred to Prater as her “best friend,” told Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA-TV in an interview.

Another Prater friend, Tiffany Cameron, told the station that Prater had battled drug addiction in the past, which she believed played a role in her harming Zachary.

“Honestly, I would never in a million years think she would have done that do him,” she told KCRA. “I know she loved him. I know she did. I, honestly, think drugs had a lot to do with it.”

Prater and Caldwell are each facing sentences of 25 years to life in prison. Prater’s sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for Dec. 10, at 10 a.m. Caldwell’s sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for Nov. 19, at 9 a.m. Both hearings will be held before Judge Stephen Acquisto in Sacramento County Superior Court.

[image via Sacramento County Sheriff]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.