PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A 19-year-old mother and her 26-year-old boyfriend now face first-degree murder charges in the beating death of 4-year-old Tahjir Smith.
Lisa Smith and Keiff King remain in jail without the possibility of bail.
Investigators say the young boy had been brutally beaten for spilling his cereal on the morning of January 22.
His mother told police she disciplined him after seeing him being “sneaky” and running toward the couch and that he began to stutter, which he did when scared.
Paramedics later found him unresponsive inside the home on the 1800 block of Lukens Avenue in Willow Grove.
They describe living conditions inside the home as “deplorable.”
“There were insects and roaches in the house,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele.
But even more despicable is the alleged abuse that went on inside, according to Steele, who was visibly emotional at a press conference Friday.
Friday also happens to be Wear Blue Day, a pledge to prevent child abuse.
“Unfortunately, today is too late for Tahjir,” Steele said. “This was a violent sustained beating of a four-year-old that caused his death.”
A probable cause affidavit shows the boy’s mother, who is pregnant, initially told police she was walking home from the Willow Grove Mall with Tahjir when his feet became “wobbly” and he struggled to breathe.
But a forensic pathologist ruled the manner of death homicide after finding that the four-year-old died of multiple blunt and thermal injuries and shock.
Investigators say the boy was often forced to hold “the position,” described by Smith as a push-up position, for a long period of time.
When he dropped his knee while in “the position” that day, prosecutors say his mother and her boyfriend hit him on the head and struck his body repeatedly with a blue and black sandal.
“[They struck] his body so hard there were pattern imprints on the boy’s buttocks when the police were finally called,” Steele said.
King also admitted to throwing the boy, who had urinated on himself, under a scalding shower. The forensic pathologist later discovered a burn near the boy’s shoulder.
The boy’s mother claims during this hot shower “discipline,” she noticed Tahjir becoming unresponsive and was going to call 911 but King told her, “He is still breathing, he is cool, he is still up.”
Authorities say the autopsy revealed old rib fractures the boy suffered, indicating this deadly beating was not the first.
“Somebody who would do that is an animal, to do that to your own child and to allow someone else to do that to your child is unthinkable,” said Chris Evans, a neighbor of the family, who has lived in the area for 50 years.
He said he would occasionally see the boy playing or walking with his mother from time to time but that no one saw any signs of abuse. He added that the family kept to themselves.
“Even after all these months, shock and disbelief that this little boy had to go through this torture and none of us could even see or understand it was happening,” he said.