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Dad, stepmom found guilty in 10-year-old boy's death

Nearly three years after Shakeil Boothe’s frail and battered body was discovered in a suburban Toronto home, his father and stepmother were convicted of second-degree murder for killing the 10-year-old in a brutal beating that capped off months of horrific abuse and neglect.

Nichelle Boothe-Rowe wept in a Brampton, Ont., court after the jury handed down its verdict on Saturday following roughly 14 hours of deliberation. Garfield Boothe remained stoic.

Though they sat side-by-side in the prisoners’ box, the couple avoided looking at each other, just as they had during the two-month trial.

Defence lawyers said the couple was “disappointed” by the verdict, which carries a mandatory life sentence, but recognized it was a difficult case dealing with a heart-wrenching tragedy.

“It’s not like she was trying to hide or pretend she wasn’t responsible,” Boothe-Rowe’s lawyer Brian Ross said outside court, noting his client admitted she should have done more to protect her stepson.

None of Shakeil’s other relatives _ including his mother, who lives the U.S. _ were present for the verdict.

Jurors heard gruesome evidence of how Shakeil _ who came from Jamaica to live with his father in 2009 _ was regularly beaten, deprived of food and chained to his bed in the months before he was found dead in his bed on May 27, 2011.

They also viewed autopsy photos showing 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.

The boy was pulled from school and isolated from relatives and neighbours in order to hide his increasingly visible injuries, according to testimony. He was never taken to a doctor despite his worsening condition, for fear it would reveal the abuse he endured.

Court heard he died “minutes to hours” after a savage beating that left him with a black eye, bruised his head in several places and re-fractured a previously cracked but healing rib.

The attack caused widespread internal bleeding and overwhelmed his weakened body, precipitating what the pathologist called the boy’s “downward spiral” toward death.

Shakeil’s father and stepmother admitted they kept his death quiet for a full day before calling authorities as they planned Boothe-Rowe’s escape to the U.S. with the boy’s infant half-brother.

Both worried the baby would be taken by children’s services, and that Boothe _ whose probation order in a domestic abuse case barred him from contacting his wife _ would be sent back to jail, they said.

Boothe-Rowe returned to Canada days later after her husband’s arrest and was herself arrested at the border.

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

Boothe-Rowe described years of abuse at the hands of her husband, who she said ruled his home with an iron fist. She told the court she tried to stop her husband from hitting Shakeil on occasion but didn’t push it further because she feared for her life and that of her own child

Boothe denied any allegations of long-term abuse but admitted marital disputes often involved “pushing and shoving” and that he did physically discipline his son.

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

Defence lawyers argued only the person who committed the final assault should be convicted of murder, with the other possibly found guilty of manslaughter.

Ross urged the jury to fully acquit his client, who he claimed had no other choice than to go along with her husband out of fear he that he might beat her.

But prosecutors contended was the cumulative effect of the abuse and the attack that killed the boy and both should be held equally responsible.

“It was the accumulation of evidence about how (Shakeil) was abused and confined and ultimately assaulted when he died that I think weighed heavily on the jury and was the underlying basis for the reason they found them both responsible for the intentional killing of their son,” Crown lawyer Brian McGuire said outside court.

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

The couple’s sentence comes with no possibility of parole for 10 to 25 years. The exact length of the parole prohibition is expected to be determined next month.