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National News

Relative of slain boy sobs during testimony

BRAMPTON, Ont. - A relative of a slain 10-year-old boy broke down in tears in court Thursday as she recalled seeing warning signs of violence in the home where he lived with his father and stepmother.

Felicia Chambers sobbed that she "should have done something" to save Shakeil Boothe while she visited the family in the fall of 2010. But she testified fear kept her from speaking out at the time, and guilt from telling authorities after the couple's arrest.

Months later, Shakeil was found dead in his bed, his frail body covered in bruises, lacerations and scars of various ages.

Prosecutors allege the boy was beaten, deprived of food and kept chained to his bed in the months before his death on May 27, 2011.

They say his father Garfield Boothe and stepmother Nichelle Boothe-Rowe knew Shakeil was dead for a full day before calling 911, and accuse the pair of trying to cover their tracks. Both are charged with second-degree murder.

Court has heard autopsy results showed widespread internal bleeding that overwhelmed Shakeil's body, already weakened by malnutrition and severe infection.

Chambers, who is Boothe-Rowe's mother, stayed at the family's Brampton, Ont., home that September to help her pregnant daughter prepare for the birth of her child. She visited again after the baby — Shakeil's half-brother — was born.

Her account of the family's life in those days — of the father dominating the rest of the household, often with physical and verbal force — came under fire from Boothe's lawyer, who accused her of trying to protect her daughter.

Chambers maintained Shakeil had a close bond with Boothe-Rowe, and even sent her a Mother's Day card thanking her for her help and attention.

The boy had a fraught relationship with his father, however, and seemed to fear him, she said under cross-examination.

"Shakeil was really terrified of Garfield," and acted "like a little wimp" around him, she said.

She recalled intervening on Shakeil's behalf after seeing Boothe chain the boy to his bed during her second stay.

In another incident, she testified seeing Boothe brandish a belt while his son cowered in the corner, though she did not see him hit anyone.

Chambers described her son-in-law rationing out food for his wife and child, hurling threats and insults at them and listening in on their conversations.

She said she would sneak snacks to Shakeil and even "pinky swore" to keep his secret after he "stole" rice from the fridge.

Boothe, meanwhile, would spend his evenings in his "man cave," smoking marijuana and drinking alone or with friends, she said.

"The truth is Garfield ran that house like a prison, didn't he?" asked defence lawyer Brian Ross, who represents Chambers' daughter.

"Yes, sir," she replied.

Chambers returned to Jamaica that December and never saw Shakeil again. She learned of his death over the phone days after it occurred.

On hearing of her daughter's arrest, Chambers flew back to Canada to offer support, she said.

But she didn't immediately visit Boothe-Rowe in jail, nor did she contact police to tell them what she knew, she admitted under cross-examination by her son-in-law's lawyer.

And in a meeting with a children's aid caseworker, she said everything at the home "appeared OK."

"Out of guilt, I didn't want to say anything to (the caseworker) at the time," she told the court.

Boothe's lawyer John Rosen suggested she had a different motive for withholding information, and for her testimony.

"You're here to help your daughter, aren't you?" he charged.

"No," an emotional Chambers replied. "If I had seen her harm Shakeil, I would have testified against her, because what's wrong is wrong."

Court has heard Shakeil was seriously ill in the weeks before his death, and had open, infected sores on his shins as well as countless scars consistent with whipping wounds.

Ontario's top forensic pathologist testified Wednesday that Shakeil had been hit "heavily and repeatedly" on the head, face, shoulders, chest and limbs in the moments before his death.

Dr. Michael Pollanen said those injuries, along with malnutrition and infection, caused Shakeil's death.

Under cross-examination Thursday, he said the boy likely did not die immediately after the attack, though it's impossible to pinpoint the time of death.

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