Tonja Lashay Sydnor, 33, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter in the May 27, 2019 death of her 5-year-old son Christian Sydnor on Friday afternoon in Halifax County Circuit Court.
Judge Kimberley S. White found Sydnor guilty of the manslaughter charge as well as the charge of felony child abuse with serious injury. Each of Sydnor’s charges carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
A visibly upset Sydnor, seated next to her defense attorney, Jason Anthony, shed tears after the facts of the case were presented to Judge White by Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Q. Martin.
Sydnor had entered an Alford guilty plea for both of her charges, waiving her right to a trial by jury.
It has been nearly two years since the fateful Memorial Day when Sydnor’s son Christian’s life was cut short. Christian was living with his mother at 2031 Old Cluster Springs Road at the time of his death. Sydnor’s boyfriend Kory Lenorad Lennon had been staying with her and her son over the holiday weekend. Lennon made the 9-1-1 call that evening, telling the dispatcher he had “whooped” the child and he was not breathing, according to prosecuting evidence presented to the court by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
On March 1, Judge White found Lennon guilty of second-degree murder and felony child abuse with serious injury. Lennon is in jail awaiting his sentencing.
“Christian Sydnor died after having been beaten by Mr. Lennon,” Martin told those gathered in the courtroom that day. “The scene of the crime was the child’s bedroom.”
After appearing in court Friday, Sydnor also returned to Blue Ridge Regional Jail to await her sentencing, which is set for July 1 at 2:30 p.m. in Halifax County Circuit Court.
Judge White ordered a pre-sentencing investigation to take place prior to Sydnor’s sentencing. Martin noted that no sentencing agreement had been reached between the prosecution and the defense.
The medical examiner’s office ruled that Christian Sydnor’s cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, torso and extremities in a setting of forced exercise, Martin said as she presented the facts of the case in court Friday. The medical examiner’s autopsy also revealed that Christian had contusions and abrasions all over his body at the time of his death — a total of 51 wounds.
Following her son’s death, Sydnor has been interviewed a number of times by police, Martin noted. In those interviews, Sydnor said that she had trusted Lennon with her child and wished that she had not. Sydnor told police in those interviews that her son Christian had been misbehaving a lot and she thought Lennon, as a male figure, could help her discipline her son.
Sydnor also said she did not think Lennon would seriously harm her child but ultimately acknowledged that she did not protect her child, Martin related.
“I trusted him, and I don’t understand why,” Sydnor had told police. She also told police her son Christian was “her world and meant everything to her.”
On the day of her son Christian’s death, Tonja Sydnor told police she had been outside cleaning a truck and when she came back inside, Lennon told her he had “whooped” Christian because he had urinated on himself, Martin shared in her presentation of facts. Lennon then was disciplining Christian by making him exercise in the form of what Sydnor described as “sit-and-stand” and a “squat” with his hands out. Sydnor told police Lennon had a belt in his hand and was threatening to beat her son if he did not perform the exercises.
Sydnor said she did not intervene in the discipline of her child or stay for its completion, but rather, she was in and out of the house doing other things. She also said in her police interviews she did not think to intervene because Lennon had punished Christian the day before with exercise and “everything had been fine.”
Sydnor told police that she left the home around 7 p.m. to take out the trash, leaving her son Christian at the home with Lennon. Lennon called Sydnor while she was out and asked Christian if he slept with his eyes open. Sydnor told police she replied, “Yes.” When she returned to the home, she told police she found her son Christian unresponsive and saw bruises on his face and body, asked Lennon what had happened, and asked him to call 9-1-1, Martin related in her presentation of facts.
As Sydnor and Lennon await their sentencing, the two-year anniversary of the death of the untimely death of Christian Sydnor approaches. Known by some by the nickname of “butterbean,” Christian had just graduated from the South Boston Early Learning Center in the spring of 2019 and would have started kindergarten in the fall of that year.