An English couple who struggled to get their infant son back from child services and then abused him so severely that the 10-month-old baby died just over a month later were sentenced to life in prison for murder on Friday, in what a judge described as a case of “unimaginable cruelty”.
Stephen Boden, 30, and Shannon Marsden, 22, showed no emotion as family members wept and a gasp sounded in the gallery as sentence was handed down at Derby Crown Court.
Finley Boden, who the judge said was an adorable, happy, smiling baby, died on Christmas Day 2020.
The last few weeks of his life were hell, based on his catalog of injuries: 57 bone fractures, 71 bruises and burns on his hand, including one likely caused by a lighter.
“They acted together to inflict all his injuries and then hide him and allow him to die in such a terrible way,” a relative wrote in a statement read by prosecutor Mary Prior. “I can only describe you two as monsters for what you did.”
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The baby boy was taken from the weed-smoking couple soon after he was born in February 2020 because social workers said he faced “significant damage” to their squalid Chesterfield home and Boden was convicted of domestic violence, according to court records.
As part of his appeal to a family court to return the boy, Boden described the boy as “perfect” and Marsden said he was a “sturdy, cuddly little one”.
The court decided to allow him to be returned on a part-time and eventually full-time basis. There was a disagreement between the local welfare authority who wanted a slower transition and the guardian who wanted the parents to gain full custody sooner.
The couple wanted the boy returned immediately and Boden assured the court in an affidavit that they “worked very hard to make changes”.
Boden’s lawyer, Simon Kealey, said there was no “sadistic motivation” for the murder.
“This is not a case where the parents sought Finley’s return to carry out his murder,” Kealey said. “The underlying motivation was to bring her family together.”
But once home, the prosecutor said the boy was subjected to “repeated and violent attacks” that eventually led to his “savage and prolonged” murder. His fractures led to infections, including pneumonia and sepsis, which proved fatal.
Unlike photos shown to the court of a tidy house when the couple sought custody, jurors in the April trial were shown images of a house full of clutter, marijuana paraphernalia and spoiled infant formula when Finley died. The boy’s clothes were covered in saliva and feces.
Even though they saw that he was suffering, his parents did nothing to help. The two even kept social workers at bay, saying they thought he had COVID-19, even though they knew that wasn’t true.
Judge Amanda Tipples called them “persuasive and talented liars”.
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“You both knew Finley was seriously ill and dying,” Tipples said. “However, you deliberately failed to seek medical help for him and ensured that he was not seen by anyone who could rescue him and take him away from your care.”