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Boyfriend pleads guilty to child's murder, sexual abuse

John Cody Lawrence to serve life in prison

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BURNET, TEXAS – Faced with what prosecutors said was overwhelming evidence, a mother's boyfriend, John Cody Lawrence, has pleaded guilty to capital murder in the May 2016 murder and sexual abuse of 1-year-old Sunny Slade Bort.

Perry Thomas, first assistant district attorney in the 33rd/424th Judicial District, said Lawrence will serve life in prison without the possibility of parole and no appeal.

Thomas said a very good case was built by Texas Rangers and the Blanco Police Department.

Lawrence also pleaded guilty to four counts of assault on a public servant, stemming from an altercation while he was behind bars, Thomas said.

An arrest warrant affidavit said the child, who was found unresponsive lying on the apartment living room floor, had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and later was taken off life support.

Her two siblings, a 2-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy, were in a bedroom when police arrived. The affidavit states the child and her sister had been sexually abused and her brother also was injured.

Thomas said both siblings have recovered physically and are now in foster care.

As for the children's mother, 23-year-old Jamie Petronella, Thomas said she is awaiting trial. He said Petronella faces several first-degree counts of injury to a child.

“Some alleging by neglect, the others by failing to provide proper medical care and others by failing to notify emergency personnel in a timely manner,” Thomas said.

Thomas called the case one of the worst of his career. He assisted District Attorney Wiley “Sonny” McAfee in prosecuting the case.

“As long as I’ve been in the business, you never get over child injuries and child deaths," Thomas said.

To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services hotline