A 33-year-old South Boston woman, Tonja Lashay Sydnor, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday in Halifax County Circuit Court on charges stemming from the May 27, 2019 death of her 5-year-old son Christian Sydnor.
Judge Kimberley S. White sentenced Sydnor to 10 years each on the charges of voluntary manslaughter and child abuse/neglect resulting in serious injury, the maximum sentence for the charges prescribed by the state’s sentencing guidelines.
“It is an exceedingly sad day for everyone,” White said to those gathered in the courtroom before sentencing Sydnor. “Truly some of the saddest cases I’ve ever had have been where parents failed their children, and this is right up there with them.”
What Sydnor is being punished for is failing to listen to the cries of her son Christian as he was being beaten by her then-boyfriend Kory Lenorad Lennon and failing to intervene to protect her son, White told those gathered in the courtroom.
“She abandoned and betrayed her son. Her son loved her, and she betrayed that love that day. She didn’t step in,” White said. “She can’t hide behind Mr. Lennon and what he did because she knew what was going on…She chose Mr. Lennon over Christian that day.”
At the time of Christian’s death, he was living with his mother at a residence at 2031 Old Cluster Springs Road, and Lennon recently had moved into the residence with Sydnor.
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, according to evidence presented to the court by Commonwealth’s Attorney Tracy Q. Martin.
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.
“Where was Tonja Sydnor when he was being lashed 51 times?” Martin questioned in her closing argument prior to Sydnor’s sentencing. “She should have known what her child was enduring, and she turned her back; she turned a blind eye. This 5-year-old boy was entirely dependent on her. She’s the only one who could have stopped this.”
Christian’s paternal grandmother Rosetta Dotson pleaded for justice for her grandson on the witness stand at Sydnor’s sentencing.
“I beg Halifax County to fight for him. Please be a voice,” Dotson said, fighting back tears. “He had a voice that day. I know he was screaming, but nobody heard him.”
Dotson described her grandson as an outgoing child with an “infectious smile” that lit up the room who loved playing basketball and football, dancing with his siblings, and going fishing with his dad.
“He was a 5-year-old little boy who just wanted to live,” Dotson said, calling Christian’s death “devastating.”
“When I think about what happened to him, sometimes I don’t want to breathe,” Dotson said.
Lennon currently is serving out a 50-year prison sentence for his actions leading to Christian’s death at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail in Amherst. On May 10, White handed out Lennon’s sentence on charges of second-degree murder and felony child abuse, the maximum sentence for the charges.
“The court system could never attain real justice because nothing would bring Christian back. He is gone forever because of the cruel actions of Kory Lennon and the inaction of Tonja Sydnor,” Martin stated. “I am thankful the court imposed the harshest sentence it could on both parties. It is my hope the sentencing will bring a sense of closure to the family so they can move forward peacefully with their grieving process for Christian.”
At Sydnor’s sentencing, her defense attorney Jason Anthony asked White for “mercy” for a grieving mother.
“Her nuclear family is gone. All that she was, is or ever will be is the mother of a dead son,” Anthony said. “Mr. Lennon didn’t lose a kid. Tonja did. Mr. Lennon made every mark on that child’s body. There’s got to be mercy here…She’s shattered, she’s a husk.”
Sydnor called her son Christian “the joy of my life, my world, my everything” when she took the witness stand at her sentencing.
“I loved him, and he loved his mama,” Sydnor said.
Sydnor’s mother Mary Johnson came to her defense on the witness stand, telling the court Sydnor was a good mother to Christian.
“Christian had a beautiful life, and yes his mother was, is and always will be a loving mother,” Johnson said. “She loved him and they had a beautiful relationship…She was always there for her son. He was her life, and she lost everything on May 27, 2019.”
At the time of her son’s death, Sydnor said she was “in shock” – physically present but not mentally.
When asked questions about some of the details leading up to her son’s death while on the witness stand, Sydnor said she did not recall.
But White frankly stated she found Sydnor’s brain fog “convenient,” adding Sydnor must have heard Christian’s cries as he was being beaten.
Sydnor currently is serving her prison sentence at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail in Amherst.