A man who killed a toddler by striking him so hard he split the boy's liver and pancreas in two has been jailed for at least 19 years.
Joel Loffley, 29, was sentenced in the High Court at Auckland this morning for the murder of two-year-old James Joseph Ruhe Lawrence, known as JJ.
Justice Patrick Keane said the boy's vulnerability and the brutality of the attack warranted a life sentence with a minimum non-parole period of 19 years.
Loffley, the partner of JJ's mother Josephine Lawrence, assaulted the toddler on the morning of November 14, 2011, while Lawrence was absent from their home in Orakei, Auckland.
JJ was hit forcefully in the stomach and later died from horrendous injuries to his internal organs.
His liver and pancreas were forced onto his spine with such force they split in two.
Josephine Lawrence returned and found Loffley showering the boy before putting him to bed and leaving the house, the court heard.
Loffley later returned and "discovered" JJ near death in bed.
He told Lawrence JJ had fallen off the bed, onto his head.
JJ died at the house soon after.
JJ's aunty Danielle Ruhe told the court that hearing what her nephew had gone through had "shattered" her life.
Her brother – JJ's father James Ruhe – was in jail when JJ was killed and Ruhe said she blamed herself for not realising something was wrong.
Another aunty, Roxanne Ruhe-Carrodus, said she had become paranoid about her own children since JJ's death.
Danielle Ruhe said the trial was hard to sit through, hearing what JJ had been put through.
"There were times I had so much hate for that monster I couldn't stand to be in the same room as this ugly, cowardly person," he said.
She finished her victim impact statement by saying: "I hate you Joel Loffley, your existence disgusts me."
The Crown's case had no eyewitnesses but the jury used a number of "strands" to make their decision.
JJ received two broken arms and numerous other injuries once Loffley moved in with Lawrence.
Crown prosecutor Phil Hamlin said a medical expert detailed numerous bruises and injuries to the boy's body.
Toddlers often had bruises on their extremities and shins but JJ had none of those regular injuries.
It also emerged at trial that Loffley fed the boy marijuana smoke to get him stoned.
Hamlin said the crime was worsened by Loffley trying to cover up what he had done by lying to Lawrence.
He said JJ died while his mother lay in the next room, unaware of what had happened.
Once the police investigation into the death began, Loffley "modified" his accounts of what happened as the medical evidence revealed JJ died from stomach injuries.
Loffley admitted assaulting his former partners to police but he rejected ever hurting JJ.
The defence case relied on a witness who heard someone going into JJ's room while Loffley was out.
It was this person – probably Lawrence, the defence said – who fatally injured the toddler.
Defence lawyer Roger Chambers said his client did not admit to killing JJ.
"He is adamant he did not kill JJ but wishes he had done more to protect the little boy," he said.
Justice Keane said Lawrence blamed herself for staying with Loffley and described her life as "broken".
JJ's father James Ruhe had been "destroyed emotionally" by his son's death, the judge said.
Justice Keane said the assault that killed JJ was the last in a long line of attacks.
He sentenced Loffley to life in prison with 19 years before he could apply for parole.
- Auckland Now