by Naja Girard
A Key Largo couple were both arrested for allegedly abusing an 11-year old boy under their care. Randell Howell was arrested earlier this week for routinely beating the boy. Today, Jennifer Franklin was arrested for raping him.
The child's father, who is deceased, was married to Franklin and the boy was left in her care. Howell, the boy told detectives, is Franklin's "new boyfriend."
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes detectives arrested Jennifer Renee Franklin, 41, on felony sexual battery on a minor and felony cruelty toward a child.
“This is a sad and disturbing case, but thanks to the willingness of a community member to get involved, the courage of the victim, and the cooperation with our partners in law enforcement, the child is now safe and the suspects will face justice,” said Sheriff Rick Ramsay.
Howell, 36, was arrested Monday on two counts of cruelty toward a child.
Howell is accused of beating the boy regularly with a belt, hitting him so many times that the boy would lose count and kicking him while forcing him to scrub the floor according to reports. The boy told detectives Franklin would "watch and laugh while Howell beat him."
The boy told detectives Franklin would make him clean urine off the toilet using his own toothbrush and wouldn't allow him to eat breakfast or lunch - only dinner. The boy also told detectives he'd been removed from school because "his parents are scared someone will notice [his bruises] or he will tell a teacher."
When deputies checked the boy's closet they found very few items of clothing. According to reports Franklin told deputies she took the boy's clothes "to discipline him."
Deputies found bruises on the boy’s arms, legs and hips.
The boy is now in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families.
On Wednesday, detectives spoke to counselors who have been talking with the boy. They told the Sheriff’s Office that during those talks, the boy stated that about three weeks ago, Franklin forced him to perform a graphic sexual act upon her using terminology he didn’t understand. She also ordered him to masturbate, but he didn’t understand her directions and ran to his room shortly thereafter. The victim told counselors that Franklin told him to never tell anyone what happened.
Sheriff’s Office detectives and DCF investigators determined that the boy has been sexually abused and neglected by Franklin as well as physically abused by Howell.
Deputies were originally called by a woman renting a vacation residence near his home. The boy had showed up at her house late the night before. The woman told detectives the boy talked about being beaten with a belt, kicked and punched at home but begged her not to call the police because last time the cops were called his parents lied to them saying they didn't touch him and then they beat him after the officers left.
According to reports the boy came back the next afternoon asking the woman to "take him with her." He said he was afraid to go home because he'd broken the spinner in the washing machine and Franklin had told him if he doesn't fix it "his dad would come home and beat his ass." The woman then called MCSO.
When deputies went to the child’s house, Franklin and Howell were not aware the boy was gone and the house smelled of marijuana, according to reports.
Howell admitted beating the boy “when he did something wrong” and when asked about the bruise on the boy's hip Howell told detectives the boy had "moved during the beating."
Franklin, told deputies she home schools the boy because he has trouble in school.
Franklin remained in jail on Friday on $800,000 bail. If convicted on the sexual battery on a minor charge, Franklin could receive life in prison.
Howell was released from jail on Thursday after posting $25,000 bail.
Note: Information in the crime report is provided by area law enforcement. Please remember all suspects are innocent until proven guilty.