Baby Joey's mother: 'We're finally going to get justice for him'

News-DemocratSeptember 14, 2013 

Cathie Melville would not give up the fight for justice for her son, Joseph Henry Abernathy III.

Late Thursday, her efforts began to pay off.

Melville's 1-year-old son, whom family members called "Baby Joey," died in 1972 in St. Clair County.

The suspect, Gary Allyn Warwick, now 62, of Portage, Ind., was 21 at the time. He lived in the same home but was not the boy's father, authorities said.

Warwick was arrested Thursday at an Indiana steakhouse, four decades after the baby's death. He was being held in an Indiana jail on Friday, where he was charged with first-degree murder.

Warwick was indicted in April 1973 and a trial date was set, but his attorney got the trial delayed because of medical problems. The case was later dismissed without explanation through a court order issued in September 1974.

The new developments brought tears of joy and a mixture of overwhelming emotions to the baby's mother.

She started an online campaign to get her son's case reopened and gathered signatures on petitions. And, she sent a YouTube video to St. Clair County Sheriff Richard Watson and an email asking him to watch the video and to re-open the case, she said.

"I received a YouTube video and an email. The lady was on there with flash cards. I looked at it on a Saturday, April 6, about 11 p.m. and something told me we needed to look into this case. I emailed our chief investigator, Scott Weymouth, right away and asked him to pull the case that following Monday morning," Watson said.

Watson said when the case was pulled, everything was intact -- which doesn't always happen with a cold case.

"There were pictures and records. Everything was there. This was very helpful to investigators and eventually led to Warwick's arrest," and subsequent charges from the St. Clair County state's attorney's office.

Melville, now of Cabot, Ark., was dating Warwick when the baby's body was found Dec. 30, 1972, in the family home at the edge of Washington Park near the old Assumption High School. Authorities said Warwick was living with Melville but was not the baby's father.

In an interview, Melville said the Warwick's arrest "is bitter sweet."

"I am very, very happy. A mother never forgets the loss of a child," she said, sobbing." "I have never forgotten and never been able to let it go. I promised myself and my baby that I'd seek justice.

"The sheriff and his investigators have been wonderful. These men believed in me. They saw the video and contacted me. They went above and beyond. Now, yesterday (Thursday) there was an arrest. I was very emotional when they called me last night. I was overwhelmed. After 41 years, this has happened. I know Baby Joey is smiling. We're finally going to get justice for him," Melville said.

Melville, a retired nurse after 35 years, said she devoted her whole life to getting justice for her baby boy.

"I wanted to do this for Joey and for me before I left this earth," she said.

Recalling memories of the boy, Melville said: "He was a good baby. He was the light of my life -- my first born. He was a wonderful, wonderful little boy, always happy, always smiling," she said.

Though she has two other biological daughters, two stepdaughters and 11 grandchildren who bring her an insurmountable amount of joy, there has always been "one light of joy missing in her life."

"People think it goes away, but it never does. You just learn to cope with it and adjust your life around your grief," she said.

Lots of Melville's family has been calling since she got news of the arrest. She said they, too, appreciate Watson and his investigators and to St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly for agreeing to prosecute the case.

"Everybody is overjoyed," she said.

Melville said her two daughters have known they had a brother, but it wasn't until they were grown she told them he was murdered.

Watson said that, along with Weymouth, Sheriff's Investigator Jason Robertson and other investigators deserve special recognition for working the case.

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