The stepfather of a 5-year-old boy bludgeoned to death in Jackson County believes the alleged assailant lured the boy and his mother to the attack with a false story that the stepfather was unconscious and needed to be taken home.
David Durham said he had no idea why the man charged in the case would have hurt his wife, Jessica Durham, and stepson, James Spoonamore.
“I wish to God I knew,” Durham, 37, said Tuesday during an interview at his mobile home. “It would help me cope.”
Lonnie Belt, 41, is charged with beating Jessica Durham and throwing her off an 80-foot cliff, then murdering her son, James Spoonamore, by hitting him in the head.
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David Durham said his wife suffered a head injury, a shattered pelvis, a broken elbow and other injuries.
“He never took no pity on her” or on James, Durham said. “I want the death penalty, son.”
State police told him that Belt and Belt’s brother claimed the attack was tied to Durham stealing $400 from them, David Durham said.
Durham said he did not steal the money. And Belt’s brother, Jake Belt, said in a short interview Tuesday that he had no idea what allegedly motivated the attack.
“Only person can tell you why he done it is him,” Jake Belt said of his brother.
Jake Belt said his brother told him when police came to their home Saturday that he had not done anything wrong.
However, state police Detective Charles Brandenburg said in citations that Lonnie Belt admitted assaulting Jessica Durham and killing her son.
Belt told police he and Jessica got into an argument about money and he hit her, according to a citation.
Jessica Durham, 29, also has been identified in court records as Jessica Spoonamore. David Durham said the two of them married on Dec. 13, 2014 — 12-13-14. She liked the number sequence, he said.
David Durham said the attack happened the morning of Sept. 8.
Durham said his car was broken down and Lonnie Belt had planned to give him a ride that morning to a clinic in Richmond, where Durham receives a maintenance drug to help him cope with a longtime addiction to methamphetamine.
The two families live about half a mile apart on Turkey Foot Road, a winding rural road a few miles from McKee.
When the time came, however, Lonnie Belt said he had to go to work, and Jake Belt drove him to Richmond, leaving between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., Durham said.
Lonnie Belt went to the home Durham shared with Jessica and James while he was gone, Durham said.
Jessica Durham told police that Belt came to her house and told her that David Durham was passed out at Belt’s house and that she needed to get him and take him home, according to a court record.
Jessica Durham said that she and James went with Belt in his car. Once inside his house, Belt hit her in the back of the head with a metal object, then tied her up, put a hood over her head and put her and the boy back in his car.
David Durham said his wife told him Belt drove her around for awhile, she believed to try to confuse her on where they were going.
Belt allegedly threw Jessica Durham off a cliff near Sparks Ridge Road in the Daniel Boone National Forest and left her for dead.
Jessica Durham told police that James was in Belt’s car when that happened, according to a court record.
Belt admitted that he then took James to a separate spot, hit him in the head “multiple times” with a metal object, and then left his body in the woods, Brandenburg said in a citation.
Police have not identified the weapon used in the attacks, but police seized a hammer during a search of the house where Belt was staying, according to a court record.
They also took swabs of suspected blood, a piece of drywall and two pieces from a door, some clothing and a Pontiac Grand Prix.
Hikers found Jessica Durham at the base of the cliff on Saturday, police said.
Belt was hiding in the house when police searched on Saturday and arrested him, initially on charges of assaulting Jessica Durham and kidnapping her and her son, according to a court record.
David Durham said he suspected something was wrong even before he got home from Richmond around 12:30 p.m., because his wife had not texted him. His concern mounted when he got home because she was not there, and it was unusual for her to leave while he was gone, he said.
In addition, her cell phone was on a table by the mattress on the living-room floor the three of them shared, which also was unusual.
Durham said he began calling around to try to find his wife, then called police to report her missing late in the afternoon.
Authorities and volunteers mounted a search for James after finding his mother. They found his body Monday morning, about six-tenths of a mile from his mother, police said.
There has been speculation in Jackson County that if in fact Belt killed the boy, he did it out of fear that James could point him out as the assailant.
But David Durham said James would not have been able to tell police the name of the assailant. James was smart, but had a speech impediment, Durham said.
State police were not available for comment on Durham’s account.
James was the biological son of Ricardo “Alex” Morales of Tampa, Fla. He and Jessica lived together for a time when she was separated from an earlier husband, according to court records.
“I just want justice for my son,” Morales said. “Everyone loved him. He was a good boy.”
David Durham said he does odd jobs for a living. He and Jessica don’t have much money, but they loved James and the three of them were happy, he said.
Durham said his wife is a strong-willed, independent woman, but is in bad shape.
“She’s broke all over,” he said. “I don’t know how she made it.”
Jessica Durham's sister, Mary Batson, said Durham had just come out of surgery Tuesday afternoon. She said Durham had been told that James' body was found.
“She's not okay,” Batson said.
Durham said Jessica won’t be out of the hospital before James’ funeral. He and another relative plan to record it.
He asked that if anyone wanted to help with funeral expenses, that they send the money directly to Lakes Funeral Home in McKee.
Durham said James was a hyper, loving boy who liked to help with anything his mother and stepfather were doing.
“If you even say hi, he wants to hug you, he wants to kiss you on the cheek,” Durham said.