Murderer will spend life in prison for killing girlfriend’s daughter

John Cody Lawrence (24 years of age) (Courtesy: Austin police)

BLANCO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A man has plead guilty to capital murder after injuring and allegedly sexually assaulting his girlfriend’s toddler.

John Cody Lawrence, 24, is waiving all rights to appeal and will now spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole for the death of Sunny Bort in May 2016. He has also plead guilty to four counts of assaulting a public servant in the Blanco County Jail, and will serve 10 years for each count.

Fifteen-month-old Sunny Dakota Slade-Bort died Thursday morning (Jamie Petronella Facebook Photo)
Fifteen-month-old Sunny Dakota Slade-Bort died May 5 (Jamie Petronella Facebook Photo)

Lawrence and Bort’s mother, Jamie Petronella, 23, were arrested on May 5 and charged with injury to a child. Days earlier, Bort was found by police lying on the living room floor as the mother’s boyfriend, Lawrence, attempted to perform CPR. Emergency crews noticed the child had bruises on both sides of her mouth as well as a large “dried wound on her face.”

The affidavit states, Lawrence told police the large bruise on Bort’s face was a result of him trying to “rub” out the bruise, claiming he pushed too hard. The toddler was flown to University Hospital in San Antonio, where doctors indicated the child had head trauma, a spinal injury and evidence of sexual assault. She died two days later.

The Blanco County Sheriff’s Office says Lawrence became aggressive in the jail and detention officers requested help. “We’re not going to comment on what may have started the interaction, but the officers were doing their routine check and it was during that… the altercation occurred,” said Blanco County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Ben Ablon.
Deputies say Lawrence charged an officer and assaulted him. During a struggle, Lawrence assaulted other officers before he was finally restrained. The officers suffered minor injuries.

Family’s History with CPS

A spokesperson for CPS says the family has a history with the agency. In court filings, the agency was originally called to investigate the parents Vincent Bort and Jamie Petronella for “neglectful supervision and physical neglect” of the three children in January 2015.

There were concerns the children were living in a home with no electricity or water and drug paraphernalia. CPS investigators found human feces, urine and vomit in buckets throughout the home.

CPS investigators found human feces, urine and vomit in buckets throughout the home.

An investigator with Child Protective Services says the family was already in the middle of an active investigation when Sunny died because Petronella’s other child, a 3-year-old boy, suffered a broken arm on April 26.

CPS records also show Lawrence was a victim of sexual abuse and physical abuse as a child.  According to court documents, Lawrence was arrested in 2015 accused of strangling his then-girlfriend. Lawrence was admitted into a 90-day substance abuse treatment program but was reportedly kicked out because he was “out of control.”

KXAN has reached out to the District Attorney’s Office to find out what charges will be filed against the mother,  Jamie Petronella. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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