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Murrieta couple charged with torturing 5-year-old boy until he went into a coma

Murrieta couple charged with torturing 5-year-old boy until he went into a coma
Benjamin Whitten, 33, and Jeryn Johnson, 25, were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of torture, child abuse and causing great bodily injury to Whitten's young son, police said. (Murrieta Police Department)

A Murrieta father and his girlfriend have been charged with torturing the man's 5-year-old son until he slipped into a coma, Riverside County prosecutors announced Thursday.

The father, Benjamin Whitten, and his live-in girlfriend, Jeryn Johnson, were arrested Tuesday on suspicion of torture, child abuse and causing great bodily injury, said Lt. Tony Conrad, spokesman for the Murrieta Police Department.

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They were charged Thursday with one count of torture and one count of child abuse causing the child to become comatose, prosecutors said.

Authorities had received a call of a juvenile in medical distress at a home in the 24000 block of Verdun Lane, Conrad said. When police and fire officials arrived, they found the boy suffering from severe injuries and malnutrition. He was airlifted to a San Diego County hospital for medical treatment.

During the investigation into the child's "dire condition," police said, detectives searched his home and discovered "extremely unsanitary" living conditions.

Feces and urine were found throughout the home, Conrad said, along with 11 dogs, four cats and two fish. Animal control officers later removed the pets from the home.

Detectives plan to talk to relatives, neighbors and the couple's acquaintances to determine when the abuse started, he said.

They also intend to review the boy's medical record and physician reports. He remains in grave condition.

Whitten worked as a Navy nuclear machinist's mate at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Detachment San Diego, KCBS-TV reported.

For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna on Twitter.

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