Warning: Distressing content
A mother and father have been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of their infant son in what a judge described as a case of “unimaginable cruelty”.
Stephen Boden, 30, and Shannon Marsden, 22, from the UK fought to get their son Finley Boden back from child services and then abused him so severely the 10-month-old was dead just over a month later.
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The couple showed no emotion as family members wept and a gasp sounded in the gallery when the sentence was handed down in Derby Crown Court, UK, on Friday.
Finley, who the judge said had been a lovely, happy, smiley baby, died on Christmas day 2020.
The final weeks of his life were hell, the court heard, based on his catalogue 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.”
Finley 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, according to court records.
Boden also had a domestic violence conviction.
As part of their plea to a family court to return the boy, Boden described his son as “perfect” and Marsden said he was a “cuddly, chunky munchkin”.
The court decided to allow Finley 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 infant 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.”
Once home, Finley was subjected to “vicious and repeated assaults” that ultimately led to his “savage and prolonged” murder, the prosecutor said. 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 a home full of clutter, marijuana paraphernalia and spoiled baby formula when Finley died. The boy’s clothes were covered in his saliva and faeces.
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.”
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