Fame & Mis-Fortune: A Closer Look at James Fortune’s Child Abuse Case + Gospel Singer CANCELS Interview with Yolanda Adams
By Amanda Jackson, EEW News Staff Writer
2012 was shaping up to be an exciting year for successful Stellar Award-winning gospel artist, James Fortune, who is nominated for his very first BET Award this year for Best Gospel Artist. He joins the company of respected veterans Yolanda Adams, Kim Burrell, and Fred Hammond. But the groundbreaking achievement is being overshadowed by more than a decade-old child abuse scandal that has come back to haunt the singer and his wife.
In 2001, something tragic and horrific occurred inside the home of James and Cheryl Fortune that is sending immediate shockwaves throughout the Christian community. As the details leak out, the story gets more disturbing. The celebrated 33-year-old songwriter of “I Trust You,” a song which spent over 30 weeks atop the Billboard Top Gospel Songs charts, was around 22 at the time an incident with his then 4-year-old stepson, now 15, turned ugly.
After acting out in school, Mr. Fortune was notified by the young boy’s teacher that he had colored on a table. In a punishment not befitting of the crime, official documents say James Fortune whipped the boy naked with a switch, and pushed him into a tub of scalding hot bath water and held him there. This act resulted in severe, irreversible injury, in the form of second and third degree burns over 47% of the boy’s body. The young victim remained in Shriners Burn Hospital in Galveston for 63 days.
Now Roderick Davenport, the teen’s biological father and Cheryl Fortune’s ex-husband, is suing for $5 million dollars to pay for the extensive plastic surgery needed to help correct the boy’s disfigurement. The legal action, Davenport says, is necessary because Fortune was “not agreeing” to pay the money to cover the injury treatment costs.
Many were waiting to hear James Fortune’s side of the story detailing what happened that fateful day during his confirmed interview on The Yolanda Adams Morning Show today. But, at the last minute, Fortune pulled out, saying his legal counsel advised him not to discuss details of the case.
Fortune, a preacher’s kid, was raised in his father’s church and knew God at an early age. The gifted, musically inclined young man headed up the youth choir at just 13 years old. Then, in 1998, a few years before the abuse incident, Fortune started a community choir known as “Youth for Christ,” and traveled around the Texas area ministering through song. In 2004, James Fortune & FIYA’s debut CD, “You Survived” was released, spawning the hit single of the same name, which went on to become the #2 most played Gospel song in the country for several consecutive years.
James Fortune says he is “shocked” by the lawsuit over the burns that were so graphic, news station My Fox 26 could not show them to viewers during its live television news broadcast. But the boy’s father says he doesn’t know why Fortune is surprised. “I could not believe that someone would do that to a 4-year-old,” he told Fox.
The child reportedly has memories of the horrifying incident, as well as nightmares with images like skin and blood being in the bathtub water. The victim is said to recall being told to take his clothes off, being whipped naked, as well as his stepfather pushing him in the tub, and not letting him out of the tub.
Davenport told Fox News he was informed by doctors that the boy was likely held in that scalding bathtub of water in order to receive such severe burns, which falls in line with the boy’s grim account.
According to court records and audio from the emergency call, however, Fortune first told the 911 operator that his stepson burned himself in the tub. “Yes, my son just burned himself in the bathtub, messing around in the bath, turned the water on hot, and he burned like his feet and his hands…” Fortune said, while his stepson screamed out in pain the background.
Later, Fortune pled guilty to Felony Injury to a child and was given six years Deferred Adjudication.
Deferred Adjudication s a form of plea deal available in various jurisdictions, where a defendant pleads "guilty" or "No Contest" to criminal charges in exchange for meeting certain requirements laid out by the court within an allotted period of time also ordered by the court. Upon completion of the requirements, which may include probation, treatment, community service, or some form of community supervision, the defendant may avoid a formal conviction on their record or have their case dismissed. In some cases, an order of non-disclosure can be obtained, and sometimes a record can be expunged.
In a second statement, James Fortune had this to say:
“Several months ago I received a demand for payment form my stepson’s father for and injury to my stepson that occurred in 2001. In the midst of negotiating a settlement regarding that injury, I was served with a lawsuit and now my wife and I are defending ourselves in civil court. At no time in the life was I convicted of felony injury to a child. Following my step-son’s injury, there was a criminal investigation and all matters were resolved.
Since that time, my family and I, including my stepson, have maintained and continuous loving family environment. Although his father has maintained custody, Cheryl and I have enjoyed continuous uninterrupted open visitation with my step-son since 2001.
We are shocked by this lawsuit but understand people are free to use the court system tp pursue matter, whether or not they claims are baseless. We are confident through this believe in our American justice system and know that once all the fact are made transparent justice will prevail in our favor.
This lawsuit is a direct result of our desire to continue the uninterrupted love, commitment, and financial support as well as to protect the ongoing wellbeing while enhancing the current living condition of our son. We have given our stepson his is currently in our car during the summer break continuous support and understand these allegations are a direct result of not only our increased profile and financial viability but an individual desire to exploit such.
We intend to vehemently defend our right to protect our family while maintaining the character integrity and trusted core values the Fortune family has been blessed to exemplify.”
Watch the My Fox 26 report below: