'It never leaves you': Dad in Baby Joey cold case reflects on 41 years of loss

News-DemocratSeptember 26, 2013 

This week, Baby Joey's father sat on the back porch of the only house on his Centreville street with two empty beer bottles and a third in his hand, talking about his brief marriage, 41 years of loss and substance abuse.

This week, the volunteer softball coach charged with Baby Joey's murder made bail and returned to his trim home in Indiana where his wife of 35 years, family and devoted friends awaited him.

Joseph Abernathy Jr., now 62, said neither time nor being high have faded the loss of his first son.

"When our son was born, I thought about the things he and I would do... play baseball, go fishing and do other things that fathers and sons do. It was a happy time in my life. But the things I dreamed of doing with my son never happened because he was killed," Abernathy said.

He has rarely spoken about the baby's death, and said his inability to cope led him to abuse marijuana and drugs for decades. He said he is speaking now to let people know Baby Joey was loved and deserves justice.

Baby Joey's mother, Cathie Melville, lobbied St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson to reopen the case. That led to new murder charges against Gary Allyn Warwick, 62, of Portage, Ind., stating that he beat the child and caused his death. His lawyer said Warwick is innocent.

"We were both young. She was 19 years old and I was 20," Abernathy said. "I went to Assumption High School, but I took wood shop at East St. Louis Senior High School. I think she was a student there and that's where we met."

They became parents to Joseph Henry Abernathy lll. Abernathy said his drinking led to problems that ended his young marriage.

On Dec. 30, 1972, Abernathy was at work as a union laborer at Nelson Concrete Co. He returned to his mother's house in Centreville.

"I got off work late in the evening and when I arrived at home, my mom told me Joey had passed. I kind of went blank. I didn't know what to think or say. I thought it weird that my son would just die. He was so young," Abernathy said.

There was no sadder day in his life, he said. He pointed to his heart.

"It's always with you right here. No matter whether it just happened or if it happened 40 years ago, it never leaves you," he said.

"A father should not have to grieve the loss of his child because someone else took his life -- especially not as young as my son was. He was defenseless. He could not do nothing to protect himself. That's what really gets to you. How could someone kill a baby like that? That ranks right up there with those guys who rape and abuse children. It's crazy. I don't think those kind of people should be out in the world. They should be behind bars," Abernathy said.

Forty years ago a pathologist ruled that the infant died of lacerations to his liver caused by punches to his abdomen. Cathie Melville's former boyfriend, Warwick, was arrested and charged in 1973. He was set to go to trial, but there was a delay and then the charges were dropped in 1974 without explanation.

After Cathie Melville prompted a new investigation through a YouTube video and online petition drive, Warwick was arrested Sept. 12 near his home in Indiana. He was extradited to St. Clair County and initially held on $5 million bail.

Warwick spent four days in the St. Clair County Jail before his bail on Monday was lowered to $200,000, allowing him to go free until trial after he posted $20,000 in cash as bond. He is back in Indiana where he has two married daughters and three grandchildren.

Warwick declined comment while in jail and his attorney, Jim Gomric, did not return phone calls. Gomric previously said Warwick is innocent.

Abernathy is bitter that no one prevented his son's death. He is thankful that his ex-wife kept pushing the case and that police and prosecutors issued new charges.

Abernathy said he didn't push for justice because he lost faith in the system. He also said Baby Joey's death caused him to sink into a deep depression and he plunged himself into drinking and drugs.

"I was young," he said. "I didn't know how to handle it."

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