A man who murdered his partner’s son after weeks of cruelty has been jailed for life with a minimum of 24 years.
Nathaniel Pope, 32, was found unanimously guilty of murdering Kemarni Watson Darby by a Birmingham Crown Court jury after inflicting more than 20 rib fractures during weeks of beatings, including some using force similar to a car crash.
Kemarni’s mother Alicia Watson, 30, was cleared of murdering her son but was found guilty of causing or allowing the child’s death - she was sentenced to 11 years in jail.
During the sentencing hearing Kemarni’s dad said he will remember his son as a child who was “always smiling and laughing”.
The tot suffered from a catalogue of horrendous injuries before his death.
During the pair’s sentencing hearing Darren Darby, Kemarni’s dad, said it took over three years to lay his son to rest after his life was “cut cruelly short”.
The court was told the force used by Pope on Kemarni was similar to that normally caused in a car crash.
And it was detailed that evidence of how Kemarni’s fragile body, which had 34 separate areas of external injuries, had acted as a “silent witness” to the crime.
Pope and Watson were also found guilty of multiple child cruelty counts.
What has Kemarni’s dad said?
In a statement read to a sentencing hearing by a barrister at the same court on Monday, Mr Darby said: “My son Kemarni was an active, fun, boisterous, cheeky young boy. He was always smiling and laughing.
“His life has been cruelly cut short. He had the potential to be so much.
“I will not get to be involved in the key moments of his life.
“Kemarni was loved by so many people, both friends and family. Everyone has been impacted by his death.”
Mr Darby, who is currently studying at university and made his statement two weeks after the trial ended, went on: “We had to wait over three years before we could lay Kemarni to rest because of the criminal inquiry.
“When I first heard the news that Kemarni had died I cannot put into words how I felt.
“As time went on I would be told about the injuries Kemarni had. It didn’t come all at once, it was piece by piece, revelation by revelation.
“Both Alicia and Nathaniel told lies so you can’t be sure what’s truth and what’s fiction. All I feel is anger towards them – I feel deceived by them.
“It’s about coping now – trying to get through each day. When you are in this situation it doesn’t seem real.
“It’s a true life sentence for me and my family. There is no coming back from this – Kemarni is not coming back.”
What happened to Kemarni?
The four-month trial was told how Watson and Pope, who each blamed each other from the witness box, were “partners in crime” and continued to live together for several months after Kemarni’s death.
Jurors found the three-year-old died from abdominal injuries on the afternoon of 5 June 2018 after his ribcage was “crushed” at the couple’s two-bedroom flat in West Bromwich, inflicted by Pope.
Four rib fractures were also among the fatal injuries to Kemarni’s body which pathologists believed were caused up to four weeks before he was killed at his home in Beaconview Road.
Pope, who was jailed for four months in 2011 for a brutal attack on a young mother on a London bus, claimed in court that he had not seen or heard the fatal attack on Kemarni.
The former warehouse worker has previous convictions for burglary and possession of heroin with intent to supply, and was found with a “rock” of crack cocaine hidden in his buttocks when he was arrested for murder in March 2021.
Watson, who is said to have a “zero to 100” temper, became angry while giving evidence and blamed Pope, claiming she only lived with him after the death of her son because she doubted the medical evidence.
It emerged during the trial that she had bought cannabis and spent money on driving lessons as Kemarni lost his nursery place due to lack of funds.
Expert witnesses said Kemarni was already in pain from serious injuries when, hours before he was beaten to death, he was taken by Ms Watson to a walk-in health centre where she told a nurse her son was being sick, had a high temperature and was not eating.
Notes from the visit suggested that the youngster, who was given medicine for a suspected stomach bug, had been vomiting for five days and was “not his usual self”.
Prosecutor Tony Badenoch QC said: “Post-mortem examinations revealed that Kemarni had sustained horrendous injuries both that day and on earlier occasions.
“The injuries were evident both externally and internally when a post-mortem examination was conducted.
“Amongst those injuries were multiple fractures to his skeleton, some of which would have required force akin to a road traffic accident or stamping.
“Both recent and non-recent injuries were found. There were multiple fractures to both the left and right side of his ribcage which could be dated historically into the hours and weeks preceding his death.
“At least four separate events caused the fractures. They included corner fractures, fracture lines, partial fractures and a complete transverse fracture.”
Internal bruising and lacerations were also described as extensive, including injuries to Kemarni’s liver and colon.
During the trial, it emerged that an electrical wire had been used to “lock” a bedroom door at the flat.
Jurors were also shown a photograph of Kemarni with an injury to his right eye, as well as one showing him eating near a clump of his own hair, which Watson claimed he had cut off.
After the jury heard evidence from both defendants, family members, a nursery teacher and a social worker, Mr Badenoch used his closing speech to describe the murder as the brutal killing of an utterly defenceless victim.
What was said in the sentencing hearing?
Jonas Hankin QC, representing Pope, of Wolverhampton, submitted that the former warehouse worker’s “truly dreadful” actions, with many aggravating features, should not be viewed in the same category as the “purposeful, systematic and perpetual abuse” seen in some other child murder cases in recent years.
He said: “The fatal violence, grievous and brutal that it must have been, was not obviously dangerous to life.”
Charles Sherrard for Watson, of Handsworth, Birmingham, said: “No matter what the court does, she has lost everything.
“Of course the jury’s verdicts demonstrated that she is culpable in that loss.
“She will come out (of prison) to a family that is understandably split between some that remain supportive and those that will always understandably remain extremely critical.
“The effect on her mental health is significant. She is perhaps in a very dark place and may never come out of it.”
What did the judge say?
Passing sentence, Mrs Justice Tipples said: “This is a particularly distressing and tragic case.
“Kemarni died on the afternoon of the 5th of June 2018. You, Nathaniel Pope, brutally assaulted Kemarni in the sitting room of his own home, and, knowing he was in extreme distress and pain, you left him to bleed to death.
“I am sure that you did this when Alicia Watson was out. When you (Watson) returned, you found Kemani’s lifeless body on the sofa and dialled 999.”
The judge added that Kemarni’s injuries had been the result of extremely severe force “compatible with the type of injuries seen in a road traffic collision or when an individual falls from a height”.
Watson knew Pope was injuring Kemarni with punches and kicks but had done nothing to stop it, the judge said, while she also “regularly beat him hard” with her hands.