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Father and stepmother get life sentences in murder of 10-year-old boy

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BRAMPTON, Ont. - The brutal beating that pushed a frail, sickly and badly injured 10-year-old boy to his death was delivered by his father, an Ontario Superior Court judge said Thursday in handing both the man and his wife life sentences.

The suffering that Shakeil Boothe endured in the months before his death is "almost unthinkable," Justice Fletcher Dawson said in presenting his ruling in a Brampton, Ont., court.

While both Garfield Boothe and Nichelle Boothe-Rowe betrayed Shakeil and contributed to his death, Boothe was "more involved" and admitted to regularly hitting his son, the judge said.

"I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Garfield Boothe perpetrated the final assault," Dawson said.

"Garfield was the primary disciplinarian. He has admitted to repeated and brutal whippings of Shakeil. ... Anyone who would repeatedly whip a 10-year-old boy with a belt to the point where blood was drawn and spattered about would certainly be inclined towards other forms of physical violence against the child."

Dawson said there is little evidence of Nichelle ever striking Shakeil, side from one incident in the fall of 2010. She was, however, "a partner in the abuse and neglect of Shakeil even though she did not commit the physical acts of assault that caused the injuries that led to Shakeil's death," he said.

Boothe-Rowe's lawyer Brian Ross said his client "continues to feel horrible for Shakeil's death." Her apparent remorse was a factor in determining her parole eligibility, Dawson said.

Boothe-Rowe has no chance of parole for 13 years. Boothe will be ineligible for parole for 18 years, though he can apply for a reduction after 15.

The pair was convicted of second-degree murder in April by a jury after 14 hours of deliberation. Both have been in custody since their arrest in May 2011 and that time will count toward their sentences.

Jurors had recommended a higher period of ineligibility for Boothe — with some calling for up to 20 years — than for Boothe-Rowe, which suggests they believe the father played a greater role in the killing, Dawson said.

"Shakeil was entitled to nurturing, love and support. Instead, he was brutally whipped, beaten, deprived of food and medical care and was chained to his bed like an animal," he said.

Shakeil — who came from Jamaica to live with his father in 2009 — was found dead in his bed on May 27, 2011, but evidence heard at trial suggests he died a day earlier.

Jurors were told he died "minutes to hours" after a savage beating that left him with a black eye, bruised head, re-fractured rib and internal bleeding. Autopsy photos showed old and new scars criss-crossing his skin.

The issue of who delivered that final beating was a sticking point at trial, with each of the accused pointing the finger at the other. Yet neither Boothe nor his wife testified they had witnessed the assault.

However, the pathologist who examined Shakeil's body found that while the attack triggered the boy's death, he was already in a downward spiral due to malnutrition and a severe infection that saw pus forming in his lungs.

It's unclear why the abuse began, Dawson said in his ruling.

"What I find remarkable here is that when Shakeil originally came to Canada, things started out more or less normally. It also appears that Garfield was genuinely concerned about Shakeil and the problems he was having at school," the judge said.

"For some reason which is difficult to discern, he began to severely abuse Shakeil to the point of torture. He was a 230-pound man. Shakeil was a 65-pound defenceless boy."

Without expert psychological evidence to explain what motivated Boothe, "it is difficult to see much prospect for rehabilitation," the judge said.

Shakeil's step-grandmother Claudette Boodth held back tears as she remembered the "smart boy" who wanted to be a scientist when he grew up.

"That was taken away from him, unfortunately," she said outside the courthouse after the sentencing.

"And if it's one message that I can send out there — child abuse is everywhere, closer than you think. I am a nurse and when I suspected it, I tried. But unfortunately, it was too late," she said.

"If I had called the authorities earlier — and this is the thing that has haunted me — would it have made a difference?"

This little boy suffered alone, said Boodth, and for his legacy to live on, "we have to take this situation as an example and do not have it repeated."

The guilty verdict had carried a mandatory life sentence with no possibility of parole for 10 to 25 years, but the exact length of the parole prohibition was what was to be determined today.

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