Friends of 32-year-old Jessica Diane Prater filled several rows of a Sacramento County courtroom Monday afternoon to show their support for Prater and mourn the loss of her 5-year-old son.
Prater was arraigned on charges of murder, assault resulting in the death of a child younger than 8 years old and endangering the life or health of a child in the death of Zachary Prater Stokes. The youngster was found unresponsive at the Orangevale home Prater and her son shared with 39-year-old Adam Jay Caldwell. Prater and Caldwell were arrested Friday. Both are being held without bail in Sacramento County Jail.
During her brief court appearance Monday, Prater faced the judge from a courtroom jail cell. She nodded and uttered a barely audible “yes” when asked whether she wanted a lawyer appointed to represent her. She is to return to court June 20.
Sacramento County sheriff’s officials said dispatchers received a 911 call about 1:45 pm. Thursday regarding a child who had drowned at a home in the 8700 block of Pershing Avenue.
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When fire department personnel arrived at the home, they found the child unresponsive. Prater and Caldwell, who is not the boy’s biological father, were at the home at the time of the incident, sheriff’s officials siad.
Zachary was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead. Authorities said the boy’s injuries could not be attributed to drowning.
Outside the courtroom Monday, Tiffany Cameron, said she and Prater had known each other since high school. She said Prater and Zachary lived with her for a while. Reading from a poem she wrote after the boy’s death, Cameron described Zachary as a youngster who loved play fighting and superheroes. Cameron said Prater has two older children who live with Prater’s mother. She said Zachary’s father works out of state.
Another friend, Ashley Kulp, said Prater and Zachary had lived with her when he ws a toddler. Kulp said she never saw Prater mistreat the child.
“It’s definitely a shock to the conscience,” Kulp said of the child’s death and Prater’s arrest.