- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - A man and his live-in girlfriend repeatedly beat his 25-year-old mentally disabled grandson with a baseball bat but were careful not to kill him so they could continue cashing his $730-a-month Social Security checks, the district attorney said.

Jimmie M. Peterson, 68, and Michelle C. Thompson, 60, of Pittsburgh, were jailed after their arrests Monday on charges including aggravated assault and neglect of a dependent person. The grandson, Cherron Peterson, has since been moved to a group home.

The couple acknowledged the beatings, which Peterson explained were a way of disciplining his grandson for breaking televisions, urinating in the house and stealing, investigators said. Peterson has been Cherron Peterson’s guardian since he was 2.

After beatings with belts didn’t control the young man, the couple switched to a bat, authorities said. Thompson told investigators the couple first used a wooden model but switched to aluminum because it was “lighter and easier to swing,” according to a criminal complaint.

The grandfather told investigators he tried to avoid hitting his grandson in the head, but he acknowledged that sometimes occurred when the young man would duck and weave to avoid being hit, the complaint said.

Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. said he believes the couple avoided contact with the victim’s head for another reason. “We attribute that to the fact that they were cashing his Social Security checks,” Zappala said. “If the kid dies, you know, you don’t get any more checks.”

The couple face a preliminary hearing Feb. 10 and did not have attorneys listed in online court records Tuesday. Neither has a criminal record.

Zappala contends the abuse occurred since at least 2011 but only recently came to the attention of authorities when a mental health caseworker received an anonymous tip that Thompson was forcing Cherron Peterson to stand outside in the cold for hours as punishment for urinating in the house.

The caseworker noticed bruises on the young man, which Thompson explained away as “dirt”, before she told the caseworker during a follow-up visit that Cherron Peterson had “disappeared.”

Pittsburgh police found the young man and took him to UPMC Presbyterian hospital, where doctors found skull and arm fractures, plus older, previously healed fractures.

“Everybody was offended by what happened here,” Zappala said. “If they’re convicted of these crimes, then we’re going to ask for penitentiary time.”

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