BRENTWOOD — Jessica Linscott, a Plaistow mother charged with failing to protect her 4-year-old son James from abuse, faced a double dilemma yesterday.
First, Judge Marguerite Wageling denied the 23-year-old’s request to have phone and personal contact with the young boy during a bail hearing in Rockingham Superior Court.
Then, Assistant County Attorney Michael Zaino announced in court that Linscott and her boyfriend, Roland Dow, could face felony witness tampering charges.
The couple is accused of manipulating the boy by telling him what he should say — a conversation captured on video — before he was interviewed Oct. 23 by a representative from the state Division of Children, Youth and Families.
Dow, 27, faces up to 95 years in prison if convicted of hitting the little boy and burning his wrist and fingers. The boy suffered a severe head injury that led to seizures and temporary blindness. He was transferred to Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth in Lebanon and hospitalized for three weeks.
Linscott, shackled and dressed in a prison jumpsuit, did not speak publicly during the half-hour hearing, part of which was held in private at the bench.
Before the hearing, Wageling, attorneys and two social workers met for a half hour in the judge’s chambers to discuss details of the case pertaining to the child.
Public defender Deanna Campbell asked that Linscott’s bail conditions be amended to allow contact with her son, but Wageling ruled only letters would be allowed. The letters would be read to James by a therapist and copies shared with the prosecution, the judge said.
The boy, who is living with his maternal grandmother, continues to be a ward of the state and may be called as a witness during his mother’s trial June 3.
The abuse case made national news in November after Linscott and Dow dropped the injured boy off at Exeter Hospital. The couple agreed to surrender to police, but hid in Haverhill. Then they went to Boston, took a bus to New York and a train to Florida.
Dow and Linscott were on the run for two weeks before being apprehended at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Campbell told Wageling her client had changed for the better since her arrest. Linscott, an inmate at the Strafford County jail in Dover, is being held on $100,000 cash bail. She is taking classes and is determined to improve her life, Campbell said.
Campbell said Linscott had a black eye when she was arrested, indicating she was beaten by Dow.
“She is not the same person that she was in that relationship,” Campbell said. “She’s 100 percent invested in turning her life around.”
Supervised contact with the child should be allowed, Campbell said.
“She has demonstrated previously an attempt to coerce this child,” he said, referring to the video tape from October.
Zaino said the couple coached the boy for at least 20 minutes, telling him what he should and should not tell the DCYF worker. The conversation focused on what to say about getting bloody noses and whether he was spanked, Zaino said.
After the hearing, Zaino told reporters there was no timetable for when the witness-tampering charges could be filed against the couple. He and Deputy County Attorney Tom Reid also would not say how James is doing now and whether Linscott would testify against Dow when his trial starts April 29.
If convicted on the two counts of witness tampering, Linscott could be incarcerated in state prison for three and a half to seven years on each charge.
Linscott currently faces six misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child. Each charge is punishable by up to a year in jail.
Dow faces a first-degree assault charge and two charges of second-degree assault. Each charge carries a potential 30-year prison sentence and the possibility of a fine up to $4,000.
Dow, held at the county jail on $500,000 cash bail, also faces five charges for endangering the welfare of a child. Each charge comes with a one-year maximum sentence and up to a $1,000 fine.