LONDON (AP) — An English couple who fought to get their baby son back from child services and then abused him so severely the 10-month-old was dead just over a month later were sentenced to life in prison for murder Friday in what a judge described as a case of “unimaginable cruelty."
Stephen Boden, 30, and Shannon Marsden, 22, showed no emotion as family members wept and a gasp sounded in the gallery when the sentence was handed down in Derby Crown Court.
Finley Boden, who the judge said had been a lovely, happy, smiley baby, died on Christmas day 2020.
The final weeks of his life were hell, based on his catalog of injuries: 57 bone fractures, 71 bruises, and burns on his hand, including one probably caused by a cigarette lighter.
“They acted together to inflict all his injuries and then hide him away and allow him to die in such an awful way,” a relative wrote in a statement read by prosecutor Mary Prior. “I can only describe you both as monsters for what you have done.”
The boy had been taken from the marijuana-smoking couple soon after he was born in February 2020 because social workers said he faced “significant harm” in their squalid Chesterfield home and Boden had a domestic violence conviction, according to court records.
As part of their plea to a family court to return the boy, Boden described the tot as “perfect” and Marsden said he was a “cuddly, chunky munchkin.”
The court decided to allow him to be returned on a part-time basis and, eventually, full-time. There had been a disagreement between the local social work authority that wanted a slower transition and the guardian, who wanted the parents to get full custody sooner.
The couple wanted the boy to be returned promptly and Boden assured the court in a statement they had "worked really hard to make changes.”
Boden’s lawyer, Simon Kealey, said there was no “sadistic motivation” for the murder.
“This is not a case in which the parents sought the return of Finley in order to carry out his killing,” Kealey said. “The underlying motivation was to reunite his family.”
But once home, the prosecutor said the boy was subjected to “vicious and repeated assaults” that ultimately led to his “savage and prolonged” murder. His fractures led to infections, including pneumonia and sepsis, that proved fatal.
Unlike the photos shown to the court of a tidy house when the couple were seeking custody, jurors at the trial in April were shown images of home full of clutter, marijuana paraphernalia and spoiled baby formula when Finley died. The boy’s clothes were covered in his saliva and feces.
Even as they could see he was suffering, his parents did nothing to help. The two even kept social workers at bay by saying they thought he had COVID-19, though they knew that wasn't true.
Justice Amanda Tipples called them “persuasive and accomplished liars.”
“You both knew that Finley was very seriously ill and dying," Tipples said. “Yet you deliberately failed to seek any medical help for him and you made sure that he was not seen by anyone that could have rescued him and taken him away from your care.”
Brian Melley, The Associated Press