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Jury weighs fate of dad, stepmom charged with murder in 10-year-old boy's death

The fate of a couple accused of fatally abusing the man’s 10-year-old son and keeping him chained to his bed now rests in the hands of a jury.

Garfield Boothe and his wife Nichelle Boothe-Rowe are charged with second-degree murder in the death of Shakeil Boothe, whose frail and battered body was found in the family’s Brampton, Ont., home on May 27, 2011.

Both have pleaded not guilty, though they acknowledged during trial that Shakeil was regularly beaten for discipline and had fallen seriously ill.

Boothe’s lawyer is urging a verdict of manslaughter for his client while Boothe-Rowe’s lawyer says she should be fully cleared because she acted under duress.

The jury began deliberating today after receiving its final instructions from Ontario Superior Court Judge Fletcher Dawson, who explained several possible verdicts and the requirements for each one.

The trial began on Feb. 3 and has heard from dozens of witnesses, including paramedics, police officers, relatives and the pathologist who examined Shakeil’s body.

Both accused testified, pointing the finger at each other through their lawyers as they described a marriage and family marred by violence and lies.

Boothe imposed his will with his fists early on in the couple’s relationship, prompting numerous calls to police over the years as they moved from Florida to Canada and eventually leading him to plead guilty in a domestic assault case, his wife said.

He took the same approach with his Jamaican-born son once the boy came to live with them in 2009, Boothe-Rowe testified, saying she challenged him on occasion but didn’t push it further because she feared for her life and that of her own child, Shakeil’s infant half-brother.

Boothe denied any allegations of long-term abuse but admitted marital disputes often involved “pushing and shoving” and his method of discipline regularly left Shakeil bleeding from belt lashings.

Boothe-Rowe was the one who resented the boy — her husband’s child with another woman — and had care of him during the day while his father was at work, Boothe’s lawyer John Rosen countered.

The couple’s treatment of Shakeil worsened after the baby’s birth in September 2010, prosecutors alleged. The shy boy, who struggled to adapt to Canadian life, was pulled from school when his injuries grew too serious to remain unnoticed, they said.

Hidden in the family home, he was shackled to his bed daily and deprived of medical care even as his health faltered, the Crown said.

Court has heard the boy’s condition was deteriorating due to advanced malnutrition, injuries of various ages and severe infection that travelled through his blood and into his lungs. With treatment, he could have bounced back, the pathologist Dr. Michael Pollanen testified.

But a brutal beating “minutes to hours” before Shakeil’s death caused extensive internal bleeding that his body simply could not recover from, according to autopsy results presented in court. The boy’s head was bruised in the assault, which also blackened his eye and re-fractured a previously cracked but healing rib, Pollanen told the court.

Photos showed scars of varying ages criss-crossing Shakeil’s bony shoulders, back and legs, swelling in his hands and thighs and open wounds on his shins, some of which were yellowed with infection.

Defence lawyers argued only the person who committed the final assault should be convicted of murder, with the other possibly found guilty of manslaughter. Boothe-Rowe’s lawyer Brian Ross urged the jury to fully acquit his client, who he claimed had no other choice than to go along with her husband lest he turn his rage on her.

But the Crown said it was the cumulative effect of the abuse and the attack that killed the boy and both should be held equally responsible. Prosecutors also argued Boothe-Rowe hadn’t hesitated to call police when her husband hit her and could easily have done so to save Shakeil.

In his instructions, the judge told jurors that while both accused were charged and tried together, each should be considered separately when it comes to the verdict.

To reach a verdict of murder, the jury must find the accused had the intention to kill Shakeil or to cause bodily harm they knew would probably cause him to die, Dawson said.

For manslaughter, they must only find that the accused committed an unlawful act — such as assault or failure to provide the necessaries of life — that led to Shakeil’s death, he said.

Both accused testified they found Shakeil dead on May 26, 2011, a full day before authorities were notified. But they gave conflicting accounts of what happened that day.

Despite a raging cough, Shakeil was sleeping in the basement — punishment for having wet the bed the night before, they said.

Boothe told the court he woke his son around 5 a.m. to give him cold medicine, then left for work. Shakeil seemed well in spite of his illness, his father said.

A panicked phone call from Boothe-Rowe summoned him back home halfway through his shift, though all she said was that it concerned Shakeil, Boothe said. She broke the news in a second call during his drive home, he said.

It only sunk in when he saw Shakeil’s lifeless body lying on the basement floor, he said. Boothe said he carried his son up to the boy’s bedroom, where paramedics found him the next day, cold and foaming at the mouth.

He claimed his wife talked him out of calling 911 because she feared child welfare authorities — who had called the house earlier that day — would seek custody of the baby once they spotted Shakeil’s injuries.

Boothe-Rowe, however, testified it was her husband who refused to report the death. His probation order in the domestic abuse case barred him from contacting her and if authorities got wind they were living together, he would be sent back to jail, she said.

The stepmother said she suspected something was wrong with Shakeil around mid-morning, when he didn’t answer her calls to come up for breakfast.

No exact time of death has been established, making it impossible to know who was home when Shakeil was fatally beaten.

The couple acted together to cover their tracks, concocting a series of lies to tell police and children’s aid and arranging to remove evidence from their home, Crown lawyer Brian McGuire said.

Boothe-Rowe fled to the U.S. with the baby while her husband considered making a similar escape. She returned after his arrest and was arrested at the border.