Woman convicted in child abuse trial that made jurors cry

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 7, 2000

Crystal Buffington, convicted of child abuse, leaves Warren County Circuit Court. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

In a two-day trial marked by emotional outbursts, a Warren County woman was convicted Wednesday night of beating and starving her 2-year-old child.

After an hour and a half of deliberations, jurors, who wept openly at times during testimony, deemed Crystal Buffington, 19, of 1558 Glass Road, guilty of felonious child abuse in Warren County Circuit Court.

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Britney Friley, the child, now lives with other relatives. Her father, Jerry Friley, 28, who pleaded guilty to child abuse charges on April 20, is serving five years and testified against Buffington.

Pictures of a gaunt Britney covered in bruises are what brought some jurors to tears. They showed an almost-bald Britney with bruises covering every inch of skin and several cuts on her face and body.

“Crystal Buffington used this child as a punching bag,” said Assistant District Attorney John Bullard, who along with Assistant DA Mike Bonner prosecuted the case. Judge Frank Vollor said he would sentence Buffington a week from today. The maximum is 20 years in prison.

Buffington and Friley were arrested at their Berryman Road house Nov. 2, 1999, after Christina Breland, a friend of Buffington’s noticed bruises on Britney.

Jerry Friley testified Tuesday that he had abused his child, but he wasn’t alone. “She (Buffington) beat her every day,” Friley said. “She would use a belt or a dog collar and she would throw her up against the wall.”

Friley, who began sobbing many times during his testimony, said he wanted to stop Buffington, but didn’t know how.

“She would leave Britney in the corner for two or three hours and Britney would lose the feeling in her legs and fall down,” he said.

Friley said Buffington would strike the toddler has she tried to eat.

“It got to where Britney wouldn’t eat around Crystal because she was so scared of her,” Friley said. “She would say I brought this child into the world and I can take her out.'”

Through tears, Breland testified Tuesday that she discovered the child’s injuries when she was undressing Britney because some juice spilled on her clothes.

“My mother and I started crying when we saw the bruises, and then we thought about what to do,” she said. “I was horrified when I saw them.”

Breland and her mother called the Warren County Sheriff’s Department and took Britney to the hospital.

Breland told the jury that when she picked Britney up that morning Buffington told her the child’s rear was black and blue because the little girl wouldn’t toilet train.

“She told me she had to hit Britney and make it hurt because the child was stubborn,” Breland said.

Dr. John Dawson, who examined Britney when she was taken to ParkView Regional Medical Center, said the child was also malnourished.

“Her hair was falling out, which is caused by malnutrition and dehydration,” Dawson testified Tuesday.

Buffington took the stand Wednesday and said she would swat Britney on the diaper, but denied bruising the child.

“I didn’t hit her that hard, and it was Jerry that caused the bruises she had,” Buffington said.

She told the court she felt she was a good mother.

“He (Friley) would beat me, too,” she said. “I feel I did the best I could under the circumstances.”

After the verdict, Angie Hydrick, Friley’s sister, who has custody of Britney and her 1-year-old sister, said she was relieved.

“I am glad she is going to get the punishment she deserves,” Hydrick said. “My brother was wrong for what he did and so was she.”

The younger child, who also was taken from the home on Berryman Road, apparently was not abused.

The conviction Wednesday night was the third for the DA’s office involving abuse of children during the past month.

On Nov. 10, Raymond Friley Jr., 33, who is not related to Jerry Friley, was convicted of molestation after a three-day trial. Six days later, John Timothy Harris, 35, 1900 Baldwin Ferry Road, was convicted of sexual battery of a 7-year-old.

“I think this sends a message that the community won’t tolerate people abusing children and neither will the District Attorney’s Office,” Bullard said.