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Abusers Convicted of Killing Grandchild

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Abusers Convicted of Killing Grandchild

Apr. 8, 2006. 07:25 AM
NICK PRON
STAFF REPORTER

To nobody's surprise, a Toronto judge has found a couple guilty of murdering their grandchild, Jeffrey Baldwin, starving the 5-year-old to death.

Elva Bottineau, 54, and Norman Kidman, 53, were convicted of second-degree murder and face an automatic sentence of life in jail for the Nov. 30, 2002 death.

The city's chief crown attorney, Paul Culver, said later the pair should stay locked up for close to what is allowed by law, 25 years, before they can apply for parole. That will be determined at a sentencing hearing Wednesday.

While the verdict has restored faith in the justice system, the troubling question still remains: How could a defenceless boy die such a brutal death — Justice David Watt called it "barbaric" — in the country's biggest city with its multitude of social agencies which get millions of dollars in annual budgets to prevent such atrocities?

Jeffrey was handed over to two convicted child abusers in a family court order, with the approval of the Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto.

The society, it seems, forgot to check its files on the couple when it gave them its wholehearted blessing to look after Jeffrey and three siblings. They had been taken away from their abusive birth parents and put into the care of a couple who treated Jeffrey, as the court heard, like a dog.

Emergency workers were shocked when they found Jeffrey — his rib cage sticking out, his body covered in sores and reeking of urine. He drank from the toilet bowl.

Mike Davis, a retired Toronto police homicide officer who investigated the murder, didn't mince words when he said in an interview that there should be a public inquiry into the death. "Our society let this child down," he said.

One spectator in the crowded University Ave. courtroom turned heads when he shouted out for some frontier justice: "Hang them and get it over with."

Watt kept the focus of his verdict on Jeffrey's suffering and not the system that handed him over to his grandparents.

Now that focus will shift.

An inquest has been called by Ontario's chief coroner, Dr. Barry McLellan.

Inquests can't lay the finger of blame on anyone or any institution. Their mandate is to offer solutions to prevent such deaths in the future.

"The circumstances surrounding Jeffrey's death have been a matter of public interest," McLellan said in a news release.

He said the role of the children's aid society will be front and centre in the inquest. No date has been set.

The society released a statement after the verdict, saying it deeply regrets the child's tragic death.

"Knowing that we could have done more to prevent Jeffrey's death has been heartbreaking for everyone involved," said executive director Mary McConville.

"The CCAS wishes to assure the public both that we have made substantial changes to our operating practices to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again and that we will co-operate fully with the coroner in the inquest into Jeffrey's death."

Little Jeffrey lived — and died — in filthy conditions, locked up nightly in a room that Watt described as "a dungeon."

Said Watt: "Jeffrey suffered severe, long-standing malnutrition ... a textbook case."

The official cause of death was septic shock, his wasted body too weak to fight off the ravages of bacterial pneumonia he suffered after sleeping in his own bodily wastes. He was never toilet trained by his grandparents.

Bottineau, wearing green track pants and sweat top, her greyish brown hair done up in a ponytail, slumped in her chair, located outside the prisoner's box and away from her common-law husband, after hearing Watt's verdict, dropping her chin into her hands.

The woman who has an IQ of 69, kept shaking her head angrily as Watt recapped the four-month trial, detail by painful detail, in his ruling of some 500 pages.

Kidman kept staring at the floor, just as he had done throughout the trial, which ended in January.

Jeffrey's parents were not in court yesterday.

Afterwards, the boy's paternal grandmother, Susan Dimitriadis, said she was overjoyed by the verdict.

"I have more faith in the courts than I have with the Catholic Children's Aid Society."

She has been fighting the society to see her three other grandchildren, but so far has been stonewalled by officials.

Kidman slammed the door in her face when she tried to visit the children in 1999, telling her never to return. As kinship guardians of the children, it was their right by law to bar her.

Dimitriadis's husband, Paul, was blunt in his criticism of the society.

"I believe the Catholic Children's Aid Society lives in a big castle with high walls and when they come out they are guarded by pit bull terriers called lawyers who are ready to tear anyone apart when they try to question them," he said, trembling with rage. "There's a whole bunch of shattered, destroyed lives because of this. Changes have to be made."

Culver, speaking for prosecutors Beverley Richards and Lorna Spencer, called it one of the most "horrific cases" he has ever seen.

Lawyer Anil Kapoor, who defended Bottineau along with co-counsel Nicholas Xyannis, said later his client was "grateful ... relieved" not to be convicted of first-degree murder, the charge she and Kidman were facing.

Robert Richardson, who defended Kidman along with co-counsel Catherine Glaister, said later he felt his client was guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, "but obviously the judge disagreed."

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