Two-year-old JJ Lawrence suffered two broken arms in the months before he died, but his imprisoned father was unable to contact the family with concerns he had about the new man in his son's life.
Serving prisoner James Ruhe told the High Court in Auckland yesterday that his ex-girlfriend's new partner was reputedly a "shady character" who was "not to be trusted".
That man, Joel Loffley, 29, is accused of murdering JJ on November 14, 2011, by administering a blow to the toddler's stomach so forceful it split his liver and pancreas in two.
Ruhe said he tried to contact JJ's mother, Josephine Lawrence, concerned over his son's two broken arms, but he was unable to reach her.
The Crown said Loffley was in charge of JJ when both broken arms occurred. He was also alone with JJ the morning the toddler died.
Crown prosecutor Nick Webby said Loffley and Lawrence argued that morning and as Lawrence went to leave the house, Loffley told her: "Leave that boy with me. That boy's mine today."
When she returned she found Loffley in the shower with JJ who was crouched down crying with a soiled nappy.
Loffley told her JJ had fallen off the bed and hit his head, a story he later repeated to police.
He put JJ to bed while his mother, unaware of the distress her son was already in, went to her room and watched a movie.
Loffley went out with his brother and came back about 11am.
Loffley "discovered" JJ not breathing and an ambulance was called, Webby said.
Roger Lang, an electrician contracted to change a battery in the house's smoke alarm, testified to entering the house to find JJ laid out on a rug in the lounge, not breathing.
Lang described administering CPR until an ambulance arrived 15 or 20 minutes later.
Paramedics told him to stop as it was apparent JJ had died some time before.
Two neighbours testified to hearing Lawrence screaming, "What have you done? What have you done? I hate you. I hate you."
Loffley, a powerfully-built Maori man, sat impassively between two security guards as the case against him was detailed.
His lawyer Roger Chambers said Loffley's case was that he had not hit or otherwise assaulted JJ.
Chambers said it was "not him in that household" who had hurt the boy.
In each cross-examination, Chambers focused on the behaviour of Lawrence.
He asked Lang what actions she took while the electrician "desperately tried to help this little boy".
He asked Ruhe about Lawrence's problems with alcohol and whether she ever "flew off the handle".
Ruhe responded: "No," then added, "...just for going to jail."
He is serving a sentence in Paremoremo for burglaries, laundering money and escaping custody.
In re-examination he said Lawrence was "always loving" to JJ.
"He was always priority number one."
In the Crown opening, Webby said an autopsy found the blow to JJ's stomach was "extraordinarily" forceful. JJ was also found to have cannabis in his system as if he had been given some or been in a room thick with cannabis smoke.
Webby said though it was clear JJ had died of an injury, Loffley was the only one to suggest to police how it could have happened.
Police intercepted calls between Loffley and Lawrence in which the accused blamed the mother for the death and suggested she may have hit her son with a bladed instrument.
Webby said Loffley was undergoing an anger management course at the time of the death.
Police found a document at the house in Lawrence's hand where she wrote about the effects of "abuse".
"I'm scared for my son...scared he's going to get hurt and get taken away," she wrote.
The trial before Justice Patrick Keane and a jury of seven men and five women is expected to last three weeks.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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