LARGO — Jordan Belliveau Sr. did not go to court Tuesday morning. He did not sit on a hard wooden bench, in a room full of family and reporters, to watch the mother of his son plead guilty to murdering him. He did not know if he could handle it, emotionally, and he did not want to cause a scene.
He already knew the terms of the plea deal Charisse Stinson agreed to for killing their 2-year-old son, Jordan Belliveau Jr.: The 23-year-old mother would spend up to 50 years in prison, with credit for more than two years served in jail.
The father did not think it was enough.
“I’m not nobody’s creator,” Belliveau, 24, told the Tampa Bay Times. “I can’t say when somebody dies. But that’s what I would’ve liked.”
More than two years ago, Stinson told police she’d accepted a ride from a man who knocked her unconscious and abducted Jordan. An Amber Alert and multi-day manhunt ensued. The search ended in the woods behind a Largo baseball field, where the boy’s body was found on Sept. 4, 2018.
Stinson soon admitted to police that she’d made up the abduction story. What really happened, she said, was that she hit Jordan in a moment of frustration, and his head hit a wall, and he started having seizures. She left him for dead in the woods. An autopsy said he suffered a skull fracture, a leg fracture and bleeding beneath his scalp. The cause of death was blunt trauma.
She was charged with first-degree murder and making a false report to law enforcement. On Tuesday, she pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder and to the false report charge. In addition to prison, she’ll owe more than $28,000 in court and investigative costs.
Stinson told a judge Tuesday that she’s become a better person in the past two years. She spoke from behind a mask, as did everyone in the socially distanced courtroom.
“For a while, I was so angry and bitter before I came to jail," she told the court. “And now I’m free, mentally. I may not be free physically. But I want my mom to know that I am free mentally.
"I am not in bondage anymore, and that is the gift that God has given me.”
Both Stinson and young Jordan spent much of their lives entangled with the child welfare system, and in the wake of the killing, the case became a public indictment of that system’s failure to provide stability or spot red flags.
Stinson grew up in flux, living at one time in a motel, at another in a home without electricity. The latter resulted in a neglect complaint that had her temporarily removed from her mother’s custody; later, she spent a chunk of her teen years in a group home, where she found some measure of stability but also showed anger and obsession that some close to her felt were signs of an undiagnosed mental illness. Then, before she was out of her teens, the home closed.
None of her unstable upbringing excuses her killing her own child, said Fezjia Brown, who worked at the group home while Stinson lived there. But neither can Jordan’s death be understood without that context.
“I feel so bad that this girl did this,” Brown told the Times. “I feel so bad this happened to this poor baby when there were signs. Let’s not ignore the signs.”
Jordan was placed in foster care when he was 6 months old. Police had been called to his parents' home when he was a baby, child protective investigators said, and they didn’t think it was a safe environment for him. He lived for more than a year with foster parents, who after his death remembered him as a joyful, mischievous boy they nicknamed “Mr. Chuckles.” They declined to comment for this story.
They blamed systemic failures for his death, as would family members and Brown. Stinson and Jordan were reunited about three months before his death. A caseworker visited the apartment where the two lived earlier the same day that Stinson killed the child.
This summer, a bill bearing Jordan’s name was signed into law. A set of child welfare reforms, the law requires more training to recognize child head trauma and improve communication between child welfare agencies and law enforcement.
“Precious baby Jordan will leave a legacy on many, and his legacy is that kids like him hopefully will have better opportunities than he had and better outcomes than he had,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater.
Jordan Belliveau Sr. said he has spent the past two years trying to stabilize his life and to be a good father to his other kids — he has a year-old daughter, he said, and one on the way.
Stinson was pregnant with the couple’s second child when she was arrested, and Belliveau said he hasn’t been allowed to see the baby she gave birth to while in custody. That child was taken in by the same foster family that cared for Jordan, sparking a custody dispute. Belliveau said he only lets himself cry in the shower.
Stinson’s mother, Mary Washington, spoke in court. She pleaded, to no avail, for a more lenient sentence than the one her daughter had agreed to.
“I love my child,” Washington said. “She loved hers. This won’t bring Jordan back.”
Brown learned of Stinson’s plea deal when it made the news Tuesday morning. She wondered whether 50 years in prison was the right sentence for someone whom she believes has serious mental health issues. She felt pessimistic that the punishment would do anything to change the system that she saw as the overarching culprit.
“She took her own baby’s life,” Brown said. “But hers was taken a long time ago.”