BRAMPTON, Ont. - After admitting he struck his son with a belt hard enough to draw blood on "a few" occasions, a Toronto-area father denied Monday having abused the 10-year-old or delivering the beating that ended his life.
Garfield Boothe defended himself at his murder trial, testifying that he never punched or kicked Shakeil Boothe or chained him to his bed. Discipline sometimes came in the form of "the strap," but more often meant losing video game and TV privileges, the said.
Asked whether he killed Shakeil the morning of May 26, 2011, Boothe was equally adamant.
"No, I did not," he told the court.
"Did you beat him in any way that morning?" his defence lawyer, John Rosen, asked.
"No," Boothe replied.
He told the court it was only hours after finding Shakeil's body that it dawned on him the boy had been murdered.
And while he mentioned several times that it was his wife and co-accused Nichelle Boothe-Rowe who had been home that morning — and that she was the one who kept the boy in chains — he stopped short of clearly pointing the finger at her, saying he didn't know who killed his son.
He and Boothe-Rowe are both charged with second-degree murder in Shakeil's death.
The boy was found dead in his bed on May 27, 2011, but Boothe-Rowe testified she discovered his lifeless body in the basement the previous day.
The court has heard autopsy results showed heavy blows shortly before the boy's death caused widespread internal bleeding that overwhelmed his body, already weakened by malnutrition and severe infection.
In his testimony, Boothe said Shakeil had been fighting what he then considered a cold, but now believes to have been pneumonia. He blamed any sign of malnutrition on the boy's illness and his preference for junk food.
Despite Shakeil's worsening condition, Boothe didn't take him to the doctor because the boy had multiple injuries that could have raised questions, he said. At the time, Boothe was on probation in a domestic assault on his wife, and shouldn't have been living with her, he testified.
"Shakeil would be taken away, (the baby) would be taken away," Boothe said, adding he'd end up behind bars.
Instead, Boothe gave his son cough medicine before leaving for work at 5:30 a.m., he said, adding Shakeil otherwise looked fine. He said he left the boy watching TV in the basement, where he had been sleeping after a bed-wetting incident.
The first hint that something was wrong came halfway through Boothe's shift when his wife called "in a panicked state," he said. Though she didn't explain what was wrong, her tone convinced him to punch out and rush home, Boothe said.
A second call came as the father was driving, he said.
"She say, 'Shakeil, Shakeil, he's gone,'" he told the court.
But the words didn't register until Boothe saw the boy lying face down on the basement floor, he testified.
When he picked up the child's body to bring him upstairs, he noticed "there was no life inside of him," he said. The father said he didn't notice any injuries on the boy's face or body.
Boothe said he wanted to call 911 but his wife convinced him not to. He realized it would mean "trouble" for all of them, particularly the baby, who would be seized by child-welfare authorities, he said.
He initially considered leaving the country, but decided against it, he said.
"At that point in time, I was more thinking of protecting Nichelle and (the baby)... I thought they should leave and I would take responsibility," he said.
Court has heard Boothe-Rowe and the baby fled that night to the U.S. only to return a few days later after Boothe had been arrested. She was arrested at the border.
Her lawyer, Brian Ross, challenged Boothe's testimony, accusing him of beating Shakeil to death after the boy refused to take his medicine that morning.
"You knew he was already dead when you left," he charged.
Boothe wanted "absolute control" over his son so he could sit in his room getting drunk and smoking marijuana in peace, Ross alleged. And once the baby was born, he had no need for the son whose problems at school made him "an embarrassment," the lawyer said.
The couple has given conflicting accounts of what transpired in the home the day of Shakeil's death and in the months leading up it. Both testified that the other was mistreating Shakeil and objected to it, but didn't intervene.
Boothe-Rowe painted her husband as a controlling patriarch who beat his wife and eldest son into submission.
The stepmother told the court she knew Shakeil was being beaten and chained up by his father, but didn't tell authorities because she was afraid for her own safety and that of their infant son.
Boothe fought back against those allegations Monday, saying it was his wife's idea to chain Shakeil because she couldn't control him when her husband was out.
While he didn't approve of the practice — "it's not something normal to do" — Boothe said he didn't stop her.
He recalled Boothe-Rowe telling him several times that she had hit Shakeil with a belt after he acted up, though the stepmother testified she did so only once.
Boothe also denied abusing and controlling his wife, with the exception of a 2008 attack in which he pleaded guilty. He said, however, that their arguments often involved "pushing and shoving."