IT'S ONLY MARCH, and one couple is already in the running for the dual distinction of year's worst parents and dumbest criminals.
After robbing a South Street jeweler with their 4-year-old son in tow Saturday afternoon, police said, John Benson and Sheakia Stubbs abandoned their boy on a nearby street, leaving the store owner they'd robbed and slashed to care for their child.
The son they left behind then helped identify his parents to police and both were arrested shortly after midnight yesterday when they returned to a room that Stubbs had rented at the Hub Motel on Roosevelt Boulevard, police said.
"I'm glad the child told on his parents - that's what they get!" said Derrick Tucker, who lives across the hall from Stubbs and her son at the West Park Hi-Rise in West Philadelphia.
Neighbors said Stubbs has lived there for less than four months but brought plenty of drama to the floor.
Benson, 47, who lived on Franklin Street near Fairmount Avenue, would come and go from Stubbs' apartment, but most of the time he would go, because Stubbs, 31, was fond of throwing him out, Tucker said.
"He'd be sitting in the hallway - a lot - just sitting there with his bag and occasionally pounding on the door," Tucker said.
Aside from the fact that her son was still in diapers at the age of 4, neighbors said there were no overt signs that Stubbs was a bad mother.
"We would have never thought something would happen with her, with the dad, maybe, but she played her role pretty good," Tucker said.
Neighbors said police kicked Stubbs' door down Saturday night and returned again Sunday.
South Detectives Capt. Laurence Nodiff said police tracked the couple to the Hub Motel.
They were taken into custody without incident, police said.
"They didn't ask us anything about their son," said Scott Brous, one of the arresting officers.
Nor did the boy's extended family in the area contact police after his photograph was released to numerous media outlets over the weekend, Nodiff said.
The boy, whose name has not been released, remains in Department of Human Services custody, according to police.
Nodiff said there's a "definitive" possibility the couple used their son to appear unthreatening so they would be buzzed into the locked store, Platinum Ice & Jewelry on South Street near 6th, about 3 p.m. Saturday.
Police said that Benson and Stubbs asked to look at rings then created a diversion, and that Benson reached behind the counter and grabbed 15 rings, worth about $50,000.
None of the rings has been recovered and police said no large amount of cash was confiscated from the couple's motel room.
In an interview with the Daily News Sunday, the store's 34-year-old owner, who asked not to be identified, said he and his employee ran after the trio as they fled.
At one point, Stubbs, whom he said had the jewelry, split from Benson, who had the boy.
When the owner approached, he said, Benson cut his neck.
Despite a gash that required 12 stitches, the owner said, he followed Benson for a block and a half. Then he saw him let go of the boy's hand and keep on running.
"You don't leave no one behind, but you especially don't leave kids behind," the owner said.
Even with his wound, the store owner cared for the child until he could contact police.
An acquaintance who grew up in the same neighborhood as Stubbs contacted the Daily News yesterday after recognizing the boy's photo.
"I'm just sitting here with my mouth open for so long this morning," she said. "I just kept thinking, 'This can't be.' "
The woman, who asked not to be identified, said Stubbs, who is known as "Kia," has older children who are no longer in her custody, but that she seemed "to tone down" with the birth of her last child.
"She hangs with kind of a rough crowd but I would never think that she would leave her child," the woman said. "I know times are hard, but to leave your baby?"
Police and DHS would not confirm if Stubbs has other children or if she has had previous contact with DHS.
What is certain is that Stubbs and Benson have both had prior contact with law enforcement.
Benson has 24 prior arrests and Stubbs has three arrests, according to Nodiff.
Both have at least one conviction for assault and served prison time, according to online court records.
Yesterday they were again facing charges, this time of attempted murder, robbery, endangering the welfare of a child and related crimes.
Police are asking anyone who may have purchased a ring from Benson or Stubbs to call South Detectives at 215-686-3013 so that they can return the item, with "no questions asked."
"I know I'm being optimistic to think that if people see these photos and say 'I bought a ring from this guy, or this gal,' they will call me," Nodiff said. "But I still have confidence in human nature."