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Va. Man Admits to Murder in Beating and Starving of 7-Year-Old Step-Grandson. Cops Said He Thought the Victim Would Just ‘Come Out of It.’

John Robert Ebel

John Robert Ebel

A 51-year-old man in Virginia this week admitted to his role in chilling death of his 7-year-old step-grandson. Prosecutors say the victim was beaten, starved, and even sexually abused by a member of his family before his death last year.

Appearing in Franklin Circuit Court on Tuesday, John Robert Ebel formally pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree murder in the death of Hunter Wayne Cumbie, court records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

At the time of his brutal death, Hunter lived with his maternal grandmother, Alice Marie Ebel, who is married to John. Hunter and two of his siblings moved in with their grandparents after their father reportedly died by suicide in 2019. The kids’ mother, Lois Delp, reportedly said she was unable to properly care for the children following her husband’s death.

Alice Ebel and Dakota Cumbie, Hunter’s uncle, are also facing charges stemming from allegations of horrid mistreatment against the little boy, court records show. Alice is facing one count of of child abuse resulting in serious injury and one count of cruelty or injury to a child; Dakota is facing one count of aggravated sexual battery of a victim under age 13, two counts of sodomy against a victim under age 13, and five counts of possession of child pornography.

John Ebel on June 30, 2021 reportedly brought Hunter to Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital with severe injuries, Roanoke Fox affiliate WFXR reported. The grandparent reportedly told the medical team treating Hunter that he sustained his injuries in a fall and had contracted an illness of some kind, but hospital personnel contacted the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and notified authorities about the suspicious nature of Hunter’s wounds.

The hospital also reportedly noted that Hunter appeared to be emaciated, weighing only 37 pounds. Alice reportedly tried to blame the boy’s gaunt appearance on an obscure medical condition, but hospital officials noted that she did not appear to be telling the truth, per The Roanoke Times.

Due to the nature of his injuries, Hunter was airlifted to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital. But despite doctors’ efforts, Hunter succumbed to his wounds two days later and was pronounced dead on Friday, July 2, 2021. An autopsy was performed by the Roanoke Medical Examiner’s Office which determined that the boy’s death was a homicide caused by “blunt force trauma to the head,” WFXR reported.

John Ebel, the first of the trio to be arrested for Hunter’s death, was taken into custody on July 7, 2021. Ebel was booked again on Oct. 5 after a new indictment came down.

Prosecutors allege that after Hunter moved in with his grandparents, the adults subjected him to various forms of abuse and punishment. Such punishments predominantly included starving the child for days at a time and physically abusing him if he was caught trying to sneak meals, according to a report from The Roanoke Times. He would also reportedly be whipped with a belt when he wet the bed at night.

John reportedly delivered the fatal blow to Hunter after returning home from work on June 29. Prosecutors said Alice told John that Hunter was acting up and John responded by striking him in the head “probably with a closed hand,” per the Roanoke Times.

Hunter reportedly lost consciousness that evening and remained unresponsive through the night until being brought to the hospital the next morning. John reportedly told police that he expected Hunter to just “come out of it” on his own.

John is currently scheduled to be sentenced on April 28 before Judge Tim Allen.

Alice’s trial is currently scheduled to begin on Feb. 24, court records show. Dakota’s trial is scheduled to begin on March 14.

[Image via Franklin County Sheriff’s Office]

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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.