ATLANTA -- On Wednesday, Joseph Hundley pleaded not guilty in federal court, but did ask the victim's family for forgiveness. Hundley is accused of using the "N" word and slapping a crying 19-month old child on a Delta flight from Minneapolis to Atlanta.
In his first court appearance in Atlanta, 60-year old Hundley walked quietly with his wife by his side. The only insight into what happened on the flight came from his attorney.
He was traveling to Atlanta from Minneapolis to decide to take his only child and son off life support. He was under a great deal of stress, he was very bereaved and he had been up for the prior 24 hours," said attorney Marcia Shein.
Shein says Hundley's son had overdosed on insulin and was in brain dead in a coma. He was on the flight to meet with his son's mother, to decide what to do.
As the plane started to descend, Jessica Bennett's toddler started to cry. That's when Shein admits, Hundley snapped.
"He said something inappropriate to Mrs. Bennett, he shouldn't have said even in his darkest hour. We hope for Mrs. Bennett's sake and our client's sake that everyone will forgive him for what he said and to heal," said Shein.
Bennett talked with 11Alive just days after federal investigators charged Hundley with simple assault.
"I could not believe he would say something like that to a baby or about a baby. And to hit him, I felt like I was in another world," said Bennett.
Bennett claims Hundley was drunk, something Shein did not discuss. Nor would Shein say whether the two parties had talked since the incident. While Hundley apologized for his inappropriate comments, Shein denies he ever slapped the child.
"We have pled not guilty, we're going to trial," said Shein.
The Saturday after the incident, Shein say Hundley's son died. He also lost his job at an aerospace company in Idaho. In a written statement Shein said, "He has paid a terrible price for his hurtful words but asks only that people understand."
In court, Shein asked the judge for help accessing witness information and the plane's manifest. So far prosecutors have refused to share any contact information, telling the judge some of the witnesses were concerned about their safety.
Hundley's trial is set for April 13th.
Don Buckindail, WXIA