By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - An Idaho man accused of slapping a child and using a racial slur on an airplane pleaded not guilty to federal assault charges in Atlanta on Wednesday, his lawyer said.
Joe Rickey Hundley of Hayden, Idaho, is accused of striking a 19-month-old boy in the face on board a Delta Air Lines flight on February 8, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.
The boy's mother, who was seated with her son, said in interviews that the child was crying as the plane from Minneapolis descended into Atlanta.
An attorney for Hundley, 60, said he used a racial slur when the child started crying because of ear pressure, but she denied that Hundley struck the boy.
The baby is black and his adoptive mother, Jessica Bennett of Minneapolis, is white. Hundley also is white.
In a statement on Wednesday, Hundley's lawyer said he had been traveling to Atlanta to decide whether to remove his son from life support. Twenty-four hours before the flight, Hundley was told his son had overdosed on insulin and was "in a coma for life," attorney Marcia Shein said.
"On the flight, he was in distress, upset and grieving," Shein said.
In media interviews, the child's mother has said Hundley was belligerent and seemed intoxicated during the flight.
Hundley was fired from his executive position at AGC Aerospace & Defense after the alleged slapping incident, his attorney said. The Oklahoma City-based military technology company issued a statement describing the executive's behavior as "offensive and disturbing."
Hundley's son, whose age was not given, died the day after the flight, Shein said.
Hundley "has paid a terrible price for his hurtful words," the lawyer said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Lisa Shumaker)